Friday, July 27, 2012

A dead chimp’s silence

What about the chimps? What about poor, overweight, doped-up, “pet” chimpanzee Travis, who was shot, stabbed, and killed after he tore off Charla Nash’s face? What about Travis’ mother, Suzy, who was shot and killed in 2001 after she escaped from the compound of notorious breeder Connie Braun Casey? What about sexually frustrated, enrichment-deprived Buddy, who was shot and killed after he and companion chimp CJ escaped from their Las Vegas cages after baking in the 100+ heat for days?
Charla Nash suffered immeasurably from Travis’ attack, and she is rightfully suing public officials who knew Travis was being kept in conditions not suitable for a great ape. The teenager who shot Suzy served 30 days in jail and paid a small fine. And the repercussions of Buddy’s death? Nothing. Silence. We keep hearing that CJ may go to a sanctuary (is the owner holding out for some unimaginable reason?), and one state legislator says he is going to introduce a bill to prohibit the pet ownership of chimps and other exotics. No one, so far, seems to be interested in holding Clark County officials responsible for the completely foreseeable and preventable tragedy.
We’ve seen it all before.
Readers will have to forgive me for continually harping about the past. It’s just that current events keep reminding me that, in some ways, we still repeat mistakes from decades ago. Sometimes, the lessons have not been learned when it comes to humane treatment of the great apes.
JoJo goes home after an hour of freedom
In September 1967, a chimpanzee named JoJo escaped from his Florida home. The St. Petersburg Times reported that police and the owner chased JoJo through the neighborhood for over an hour. The chimp bit a teenager and bruised another child, before a cop finally subdued JoJo with mace. After JoJo recovered, his owner brought him back home. I don’t know what ever happened to JoJo. I suspect his life did not end well.
We need to protect the public from “pet” owners who mistakenly believe that keeping chimpanzees in residential areas is a good idea. We also need to remember the dead chimps, who died so that their owners could get… what? Emotional fulfillment? A yuck? Financial gain? I don’t know, and I don’t care. All I know is that someone needs to protect the chimpanzees when their owners won’t.
If pet chimpanzee breeders and owners truly cared, we wouldn’t have chimps shot dead as if they were criminals. We’d hear the pant hoots of sentient beings as they learn to socialize with their own, in a spacious habitat designed for their welfare, not for the convenience of owners. We’d see an end to the breeding of chimpanzees for the lucrative exotic pet trade. We’d see today’s pet chimpanzees going into sanctuaries.
Maybe those dead chimpanzees aren’t silent, after all. If you listen carefully you can hear their pleas in the night…
“Let my brothers and sisters have something I never had. Let them live in peace.”

UPDATE, August 2, 2012: KLAS-TV in Las Vegas is reporting the CJ will be transferred to Chimps, Inc., an excellent sanctuary in Oregon. One more chimpanzee will now be able to live in peace, as much as a captive ape can.  

UPDATE, August 3, 2014: Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that CJ is doing great at Chimp, Inc.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Hey kid, do you wanna kiss my chimp?

We know chimpanzees are magnificent animals, with wonderful personalities and full of affection. We’ve also seen their power, as they’ve ripped hands, feet, testicles, noses, even entire faces off of people -- including people who have shared times of affection with the chimps who attacked them.
Buddy and CJ, the chimpanzees who escaped from their cages in Las Vegas, were housed in the neighborhood of Kay Carl Elementary School and Lied Middle School. Children were in the neighborhood, so it’s hard to blame the officer who shot and killed Buddy. Protecting children is an adult’s first thought.
At least, most of civilized society thinks it should be.
Take a look at the photos at the end of this post. It seems that this Las Vegas chimp owner knows the power of his juvenile chimp*, because he keeps hold of a leash that appears to be attached to a belt loop on the chimp’s jeans. (Granted, a belt loop isn’t at all secure, so maybe the owner is ignorant about chimpanzee strength.) He also seems to think that it’s okay to take tremendous risks, letting kids nuzzle with a chimpanzee who is strong enough, and unpredictable enough, to bite a chunk off their faces.
Okay, we can all agree that the chimp owner is a schmuck, willing to risk the safety of children who aren’t his own. One has to wonder, though, about the parents who were accompanying their kids during this little outing. And we have to wonder, again, about the lack of laws to protect communities from exotic pet owners (and parents) who evidently think this is fun.

Maybe this is the most important question: Do Vegas authorities know where this chimp is now?
*I’ve been told that this chimpanzee is Joey Austin. (If anyone knows this is not Joey, please contact me immediately at chimptrainersdaughter@gmail.com, so I can correct this post.) Joey is Buddy’s brother. Buddy was gunned down by law enforcement on July 12, after he and female chimpanzee CJ escaped from their cage.




Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Feds will check for animal welfare violations in Vegas tragedy

What went wrong in Las Vegas last week? Chimps-R-Us, Inc. was the USDA-licensed exhibitor for Buddy and CJ, the Las Vegas chimpanzees who recently escaped from their holding cages before being gunned down (Buddy) or tranquilized and returned to her cage (CJ).

The federal government may be able to shed some light on the tragedy. Maybe they’ll be able to tell us what kind of conditions the chimpanzees were living under, aside from the fact that they were living in a concrete and steel cage when temperatures had been hitting 114 degrees for several days.

The facility was inspected last year. The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s report from the routine inspection on April 12, 2011, indicated that
  • There were no records of animals on hand as required under section 2.75(b)(1).
  • There was no written program of veterinary care as required by section 2.40(a)(1).
  • There was no written program of environmental enhancement to promote the psychological well-being of non-human primates that is required under section 3.81.
Exhibitors are suppose to allow APHIS officials to examine the records but, the report notes, "[t]hese three sets of records were not on site and therefore not made available for inspection/examination.” The inspector required Chimps-R-Us to correct the shortcomings by May 12, 2011.

“I do not know if this facility came into compliance after the most recent inspection report (in 2011) because that official determination is based upon inspections, and there has not been an inspection since that time,” Dave Sacks, a spokesman for APHIS, told me.

“What I can tell you is that we will be sending an inspector to Chimps-R-Us in the days ahead to look into the escape, in order to determine if any potential violations of the Animal Welfare Act may have contributed to the incident.”

USDA inspection reports are publicly posted on their website, 21 days after the inspection is complete. “There is a built-in lag time in case a facility chooses to appeal something on the report,” Sacks pointed out.

In the meantime, one lawmaker in Nevada has indicated that he plans to introduce legislation to ban keeping wild animals as pets.

Buddy sinks to the pavement, moments after he was shot

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Chimp advocate declares that it is time for a great ape MOVEMENT

Jeesuz, I feel sorry for captive apes! And I’m not talking about the ones who are being shot and killed on America’s highways and byways. I’m referring to the chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, and bonobos who will continue to suffer from our research and advocacy failures.
I am not the only one to feel the frustration. Eugene Cussons, the director of the South African chimpanzee sanctuary where chimps ripped off Andrew Oberle’s fingers, toes, and testicle, shared his anger and disappointment today.
“We already know what the problems are,” Cussons wrote on his Facebook page. “Chimps being taken out of the wild, chimps being sold as pets, chimps being BRED for the exotic pet market, chimps being used in entertainment, and governments are not doing enough to stop this.”
“In the past few years I have also become angry and disappointed with the world, but my experiences have given me some understanding of why this continues unless there is a radical CHANGE.”
I agree with Cussons, we need change. But it is so hard.
It is difficult, if not impossible, for the ape advocacy community to be taken seriously by policy leaders when “researchers” from one of the (formerly) foremost ape organizations goes on NPR and actually declares that the bonobo Kanzi can talk. Yes, speak. In English. In a raspy whisper. If we had any doubts about the Doctor Doolittles at the Great Ape Trust Bonobo Hope Sanctuary and Loony Bin, those doubts were set in concrete with this recent Radiolab program on NPR. Science, my foot.
And the “research” being conducted by that other great ape superstar? I was told that two research associates left The Gorilla Foundation “due to the lack of scientific information, and restrictions on being able to write and publish.” Caregivers have left because of feeling of powerlessness over the care of Ndume and Koko (caregiving staff is now down to four people, quite a drop from the glory days when there were 15), but others left because they thought they would be contributing to science and realized that “science is somewhat non-existent at the foundation.”
Cussons points out that, in his view, “there is no question that there are [a lot] of experts working towards saving endangered species. Personally, I think that WE need to start making our VOICES heard so we can give power to these organizations.”
And then he hits the crux of the problem. “[T]here are millions of people out there that can and must make a difference but there is no MOVEMENT for them to gather.”
“There is no MOVEMENT...” He didn’t mean the verb, as in no one is moving. He meant the noun, as in “there is no coalescing group that will coordinate strategic actions.” I strongly agree. The U.S. Congress has had legislation since 2008 to protect captive great apes -- and not a single floor vote in all that time! Another bill to restrict the private breeding and selling of apes sits dormant on the Senate floor. We have one animal welfare advocacy group going in this direction, another in that direction, and thousands of people clicking on a “like” button or a petition signature to no effect. If someone tried to start up a new advocacy effort, specifically and solely to protect U.S. captive apes, they would ignored, or worse, viewed as a competitor for scarce donor dollars. (Can someone ‒ please ‒ prove me wrong?)
“A campaign or movement should be born to bring like-minded people together,” Cussons wrote. “Please don't think that there aren't solutions out there, if enough minds come together we will see more solutions and more action…”
Ah, if only…

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Do you have a right to know about chimpanzees in your neighborhood?

UPDATE, Oct 31, 2012: When I misjudge a situation, I am compelled to issue a correction. I asked USDA inspectors at APHIS about Mike Casey's chimpanzees living in an RV. The response from David Sacks, USDA spokesperson for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service: 
Mr. Casey houses the chimps inside the RV at night, and during the day the animals have other structures and areas in which they reside. The enclosures inside the RV satisfy the Animal Welfare Act regulations for enclosure space and construction. The animals themselves are doing fine, so there are no animal welfare issues that would lead us to citing Mr. Casey for any non-compliances.
As for the citation you mention, it was due to housekeeping issues. [Old enrichment toys were found inside the enclosures, as well as discarded wrappers.]
Adherence to USDA standards does not, however, mean that chimps should be living in a residential neighborhood. It will be interesting to see what the Clark County officials decide.

UPDATE, Oct 25, 2012: KLAS-TV in Las Vegas reports that Mike Casey is evidently keeping his entertainment chimpanzees in an RV, on residential property in a southwest Las Vegas neighborhood. The property is not zoned for commercial uses (like running a chimp rental business) and, according to the KLAS report, the Clark County Board will decide on November 20 whether the chimps can stay at the home. 

On May 2, 2012, the USDA cited Casey for keeping his chimpanzees in unsanitary conditions, and now he keeps them cooped up in an RV? I think USDA needs to check up on him again. It's bad enough to exploit these chimps and the monkey, but it is totally unacceptable to keep them locked in a vehicle without fresh air, sunshine, and space to move. This ought to be a crime.

ORIGINAL POST, July 14, 2012 --

Readers, I’d like you to give some thought to two questions. Given the recent spate of chimpanzee rampages, I think we need a discussion… Do people deserve to know about chimpanzees living in their neighborhoods? Should you be warned when a chimpanzee is “entertaining” at a party down the street from your home?

While many neighbors knew, some who lived near Buddy and CJ, the Vegas chimpanzees who went on a rampage this week in a residential area, didn't know two big chimps were being housed in their neighborhood. (See this article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.) Many who lived near Travis, the chimp who got loose and mauled Charla Nash, didn't know about that chimp. In fact, ChimpCARE knows of 61 privately owned chimpanzees living in "undisclosed locations" in the U.S.
For instance, Kelley Wise from Anaheim, Calif., owns Pirates for Parties, which advertises chimpanzee rentals from his website. Wise doesn't own Bentley, who is pictured in the ad. Wise just rents him out. Bentley is owned by Mike Casey who, last I heard, houses this chimp (and others?) near Las Vegas. Wise’s business is legal, as is Casey's. But my questions go beyond the legalities.
  1. Does Casey have a moral obligation to warn law enforcement and residents in Bentley’s neighborhood that he is housing exotic animals?
  2. Does the party host ‒ the person renting Bentley ‒ have an ethical responsibility to inform law enforcement and neighbors that a chimpanzee is coming to their area?
What do you think?
Oh, by the way, if you are thinking of renting Bentley, Wise doesn’t accept phone calls. According to the website, “To book a chimp EMAIL your name, phone, address, event/production date, location and desired actions.” The address is info@piratesforparties.com. (I won’t be emailing, because I don’t feel comfortable putting my “desired actions” for Wise or Casey into cyberspace.)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Chimpanzee escapes, rampages, and maulings may hold a message for us

Sometimes I think the apes are trying to tell us something. I imagine they are trying to say: thanks for wanting to humanize us, for keeping us in your restricted sanctuaries, for deciding what our social groups will be in your small zoos, and for feeding and clothing us in your tiny houses and training compounds. But, seriously, no thanks.
Are we getting the message yet?
In late June, two chimpanzees at a South African sanctuary attacked and mauled Andrew Oberle, ripping off fingers, toes, and testicle. (See this clip from ABC's 20/20, where Eugene Cussons explains why and how it happened.)
On July 11, five chimpanzees escaped from their German zoo compound, causing panic. Four returned easily, the zoo spokeswoman explained, while the fifth “took himself off to see the head gorilla.” That is so not funny. And not believable.
And today, two pet chimpanzees, Buddy and CJ, rampaged through a Las Vegas neighborhood. Police shot and killed Buddy, and tranquilized CJ. The tragedy was inevitable... "They will always be wild animals. You can't tame them," the trainer told a local news crew in 2002. The chimps were owned by Chimps R Us, Inc., which was registered with USDA as an exhibitor (not a sanctuary, as sometimes implied).
Gee, I wonder what all these chimpanzees were thinking?
They may have been thinking the same thing that occurred to Marvin in 1974. The 11-year-old chimpanzee took over a newsroom at a Philadelphia television studio where he was appearing on the Mike Douglas Show. Marvin left his trainer and grew violent, during an hour on the loose. He finally broke through suspended ceiling tiles, which led to a reception area, forcing an evacuation. After a veterinarian tranquilized him with a blow dart, police removed Marvin in handcuffs. I don’t know what happened to Marvin, but I'm betting he was sold into bioinvasive research.

In 1974, 11-year-old Marvin is carried out of a Philadelphia TV studio, handcuffed and under heavy sedation.

Why aren’t we paying attention? Why is it so hard to understand that chimpanzees are magnificently proud and intelligent beings, who were born to wander and socialize and love and fight as their social structures prescribe? After years and years of chimpanzee escapes and attacks (let’s not forget Charla Nash), are we finally ready to take a hard and serious look at the social and physical demands we place on chimpanzees EVERYWHERE?
This week, Eugene Cusson, the director at the South African sanctuary where the mauling took place, posted this on his Facebook page: “Hi Everyone, in light of the recent tragic event that took place at Chimp Eden, I think the next topic for discussion on the page should be whether we as conservationists are doing enough to stop chimps from being taken out of the wild in the first place. Before the tragic incident, my topics were aimed at bringing people to the same conclusion about how we change the world. The event that took place at Chimp Eden has convinced me even more that more needs to be done to ensure that chimps and other endangered species never leave the forest in the first place.”
Cusson’s conversation about sanctuaries and forests won’t directly address the needs of pet, entertainment, zoo, and research chimpanzees who were born in captivity, but the thought is a good one. The chimpanzees definitely seem to be urging us to start the discussion.

UPDATE, August 2, 2012: Ah, finally, a piece of good news! CJ, the chimpanzee who didn't get shot during the Vegas escape, is going to an accredited sanctuary. She now has a chance for a happy and normal a life, as much as a captive ape can have.

UPDATE, August 17, 2012:  CJ finally arrives at her new home, Chimps Inc, a sanctuary in Oregon.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Is that a threat of retaliation I smell?

I have an interesting concept to propose. Instead of studying how chimpanzees are like humans, can we conduct research on how humans are so similar to the apes? For my first project, I suggest examining “retaliation” as an interaction for dominance. In other words, how does the big mama (or daddy) maintain her (or his) control over the minions?
At least the apes aren't retaliating
against the humans... yet.
Chimpanzees, we know, will retaliate against others in their group. The noted primatologist Toshisada Nishida published an article in Understanding Chimpanzees, “Social interactions between resident and immigrant female chimpanzees,” where he discussed dominance relationships among adult females. In his study, he kept careful count of how many times the chimpanzees used retaliation. Sarah Brosnan, in her article “Inequity and Prosocial Behavior in Chimpanzees,” published in The Mind of the Chimpanzee, pointed out that “chimpanzees will attack individuals who fail to respond with support in a fight for which their help has been solicited (de Waal 1982)…”
Humans don’t need the smack of a 2 x 4 board between the eyes to understand that we are (or will be) retaliated against. We respond perfectly well to the threats of the 2 x 4 (as non-human primates do). Most of us, especially those with the most to lose, keep our heads down and mouths shut when the threat of retaliation is in the air.
And I’ve been smelling a lot of that fear lately. Until last night, it wasn’t about retaliation directed against me, but at those with the most to lose. Those with the most to tell.
Many people have trusted me with insider information on various ape projects and organizations. They know about the financial shenanigans or, even worse, about the harm being done to the apes. They want to do what is right. But they fear retaliation from the ape owners and their lackeys.
When people send me information, they ALWAYS ask me for anonymity. Why? I’d like to share some of the more startling comments I’ve received. These comments come from people on the bottom of the dominance hierarchy all the way up the ladder to folks who are well-known and admired ape advocates. Each quote is from a different person.
“I want the truth out there and for donors to realize that [redacted] is a sham, a fraud, yet I'm so worried about the trouble I might get into if found out! Leave it to [redacted] to try and take away freedom of speech... and I'm mad at myself for letting her still yet instill this fear in me even though I no longer have to deal with her on a daily basis.”
“I feel like there is something horribly wrong with the whole field - no exceptions. Hypocrisy is rampant… Please keep everything between you and me.”
“This is off the record please or at least out of the media. I do not want to get in a battle with [redacted], I simply want to continue to help as many [non-human primates] as I can.”
“I've been trying hard to get [redacted] to go public with [redacted], but while they are very upset with her, they are concerned over lawsuits…”
“It was more of a warning as they know [redacted] and her persistence to destroy people overall.”
There’s more, but you get the idea.
Last night, I discovered these people may be on to something. This note landed in my gmail box at 11:29 pm:
Dear Ms. Forsythe,
We have reviewed your blogpost regarding The Gorilla Foundation and plan to respond more formally to the untrue and slanderous nature of some of the statements there.  In the meantime, and given the defamatory nature of the claims there, we ask that you remove your post, and refrain from posting more of the same as you indicate in the blog you are planning to do.
If you would like to reveal the source of your information, or share the source document, we could then respond more specifically, and you would be able to share the truth with your audience in a subsequent post.
Sincerely,
Penny Patterson, Ph.D., President
Ron Cohn, Ph.D., Vice President
The Gorilla Foundation
I don’t understand why Penny and Ron would need to know the source of my information in order to respond to anything I've written, but it sure reeks, doesn’t it? I will never reveal any of my sources, about anything. But if these two want to respond on the basis of facts, I will be happy to share their statements on this blog.
I thank my lucky stars that people believe in me, and trust me enough to share inside information. This little blog doesn’t have even a miniscule percentage of a percentage of the reach of Sixty Minutes or 20/20, but we are all doing what we can to let the sun shine on the scams and bullshit in the ape research world. As one well-known ape advocate told me recently, “What I cared about was the chimps. [Redacted] and all those people who made their careers off the backs of those chimps and gorillas should be ashamed of themselves.”
I wonder if we could also do some research on the human ability, or lack thereof, to experience shame.
One thing I know is that we most certainly do not need to research bravery. It is exhibited by the donors, the consultants, the caregivers, the inspectors, and the advocates who help us see the truth about ape “research.” I thank them from the bottom of my heart.

***
My earlier posts about The Gorilla Foundation:
Happy Birthday Queen Koko

Friday, July 6, 2012

Gorilla foundation director pays herself poverty wages

I really feel sorry for Penny Patterson, the owner of the two gorillas Koko and Ndume. Her non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, The Gorilla Foundation, is evidently doing so badly that she can only pay herself about $15,000 a year. Dear lord, less than 5% of the organization’s Woodside, Calif, community lives below the poverty line, but it looks like Penny is just a step away from being counted among those numbers. (The 2012 poverty level for a single person household is $11,170.)
Maybe she’s just being terribly altruistic, though. Ape lovers generally are. Since she's running an organization that brought in just $2.8 million in fiscal year 2010, and $1.06 million in FY 2011, I can see why she would hesitate to give herself a living wage. I mean, she has two whole gorillas to care for! One can understand how easy it would be to run through that money every year. The organization’s latest tax return tells the sad story.
How terrible that they could only spend $339,086 for education and outreach from June 2010 to May 2011. My goodness, that’s barely enough to keep their website running.
And the measly $753,652 that they spent on all of that marvelous, groundbreaking research, just breaks my heart! “Ongoing interspecies communication research, through continuing observations of the use of American Sign Language by gorillas, and research into gorilla behavior and welfare” is well worth every penny, adding up to measly millions over the years. Just look at the science flowing out of their compound! You can’t put a dollar value on that.
Thank goodness they had $39,000 left over for their tremendous conservation activities.
With money so tight, it is no wonder that her plans to build the Maui Preserve, a Hawaiian home for Koko announced in 1994, have come to naught – although Patterson is still dedicated to the prospect and still raises money for it.
For those who may have nagging suspicions about the expenditures, please remember: we have to give The Gorilla Foundation the benefit of the doubt.
  • We know it’s not cheap to provide living quarters for great apes. Even though they don’t have the normal captive ape facilities, imagine how much money it must take to maintain Koko’s and Ndume’s trailers.
  • And we all know, from personal experience, how food costs keep rising. Since Patterson has turned the normally herbivorous gorillas into meat-eaters (did Koko get to enjoy a big juicy turkey leg for her birthday?), food costs are probably even higher than they’d be at a real sanctuary or zoo.
  • And I understand the nutritional and alternative medicine supplements, “prescribed” by a naturopath/psychic, can run at least $1,500 to 2,000 a month. But, hey, ya gotta keep the apes (and Patterson and vice president/treasurer/director Ron Cohn) healthy.
Of course, I could have all of this wrong. Maybe Patterson has another source of money, which isn’t unusual, especially for people who live in nice houses in the San Francisco Bay area. If you drive a Lexus, and especially if you let your gorilla explore your car, you must have some extra income, or at least a generous great-aunt, right?

(From KokoPix) I am told that this is not Penny's car. Patterson reportedly has a Lexus SUV hybrid (like the one in this link) which retailed for over $40K in 2011.

Patterson deserves our admiration. Sure, supporters may be sending in paltry sums to The Gorilla Foundation, but the gorillas get it all. From everything I’ve heard, Patterson constantly avoids the temptation to squeeze personal benefits out of the operation.
Let’s hope she at least keeps herself out of poverty.

***
See also:
Happy Birthday Queen Koko
IRS Form 990, The Gorilla Foundation, 2009
IRS Form 990, The Gorilla Foundation, 2010

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy birthday Queen Koko!

Today is Koko’s 41st birthday. I understand that she’ll get lots of toys today further filling her room (yes, room) that already has so many toys and so much junk that caregivers find it impossible to clean. If a caregiver asks to take out some of the stuff, to give Koko more room to move around, the answer is no. Koko is too emotionally needy, the caregiver is told, and she wouldn’t like it if some of her toys were removed.
And who is this lucky lady with all the toys?
Koko enjoys her birthday presents last year
Koko is a “signing” gorilla who has lived with Penny Patterson, a self-proclaimed researcher who has written children’s books about Koko but very little (if any) peer-reviewed research in the past 30 years or so. (Even the Mission Part 1: Research page of Patterson’s Gorilla Foundation website is totally void of any paper, article, or link to valid scientific research.)
Koko and Ndume are the two gorillas who make up the grand total of Patterson's Gorilla Foundation. Don’t get the idea, though, that Koko and Ndume are companions. Patterson keeps them separated from each other.
Today I received a plaintive email, asking for help for the two apes. “I just want everyone to know the truth about the Gorilla Foundation and how they don't really care about Koko and Ndume. My heart goes out to them,” wrote someone who knows the situation. “If I could have my way, the Gorilla Foundation would be shut down and Koko and Ndume would go to real sanctuaries where they treat gorillas properly and where they are allowed to act like gorillas.”
Lots of primate experts are hesitant to criticize some of the ape ladies like Patterson and Sue Savage-Rumbaugh who live in very close contact with their pets (oh, sorry, “research subjects”), but one brave soul recently spoke out. Andrew Halloran, in a marvelously insightful and refreshing book, The Song of the Ape, takes a hard look at the claims that apes are able to “speak” like humans. “There are few things more depressing than watching [the 1978 movie] Koko: A Talking Gorilla,” Halloran writes in a footnote. “I encourage everyone to watch the film and draw their own conclusion.”
Over the next couple of weeks, we will go into some of the issues that should concern us about Gorilla Foundation… but for now let’s just remember that today is Koko’s day. The birthday theme at the Gorilla Foundation today is "Koko is queen for a day,” and the caregivers get to dress up as jesters, costumes by Penny Patterson.
I wonder who the top court jester is.
Happy birthday, Koko.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Chimpanzee attacks are no surprise

Chimpanzee attacks have been in the news lately. You don’t need a research project to understand this. We know – I mean we really. truly. know. – that chimpanzees can attack. Even when I was a little kid, I knew that dad faced danger when he trained the Detroit Zoo chimpanzees, although I took it for granted. Last year, a woman whose father was also a Detroit Zoo chimp trainer wrote to me. “Do you remember your father with bite marks on his hands (from the chimps), I sure do. I would have bit them too!” (Her dad was also an alcoholic like my dad, and he also trained the chimps with a “heavy hand,” as she put it.)
Danny II was born in the wild around 1964 or so. He performed for the Detroit Zoo from 1968 to 1976, when he became too aggressive for the chimp shows and was sold to an animal dealer that supplied chimpanzees to research labs.
Chimpanzee violence was and is no big secret. That’s why, from 1945 to 1985, the Detroit Zoo had to get rid of their show chimpanzees when they grew into adolescence. Those chimps had personalities, they had strength, and they could get mad.

Pioneer chimpanzee researcher Robert Yerkes, in his 1948 book Chimpanzees: A Laboratory Colony, writes of the time he was attacked and bitten by four chimpanzees in his lab. He was only able to stop them by whipping them with a chain.
The potential for violence is always there. Chimpanzees are complex individuals, who can get angry or defensive or depressed. As Yerkes pointed out, even in those early days of research, researchers could recognize expressions of “shyness, timidity, fear, terror; or suspicion, distrust, resentment, antagonism, anger, rage; or interest, curiosity, excitement, elation, contentment, pleasure; of confidence, friendliness, familiarity, sympathy, affection; of disappointment, discouragement, lonesomeness, melancholy, depression.”
(BTW, if Yerkes knew all this 65 years ago, why are we all so amazed with the daily drivel of research reports showing that (wow!) chimpanzees have human-like emotions? Aren’t there more important subjects to research? Like, for instance, how we are going to take care of all those lab chimps that have PTSD and other problems, once they are retired from research? I’m just saying…)
Today, even experienced caregivers in sanctuaries don’t mess around with adult chimpanzees. According to Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest, “There are very strict rules about contact between caregivers and the chimpanzees. Chimpanzees are very strong and potentially dangerous. Many people who work with chimpanzees at other facilities have had fingers bitten off and worse.”
“Even the caregivers never go into the same space as the chimpanzees,” they explain on their website.
Despite the toughest, smartest rules, attacks happen. So we can be horrified, but not shocked, when we learned last week that “chimps attack, severely injure American man at Jane Goodall sanctuary in South Africa.” (Chimp Eden announced that it was temporarily closed, as they figure out why the chimpanzees were able to grab the young man and pull him into the chimpanzee area.) (UPDATE: Chimpanzees cleared after mauling American
We can be horrified, but not shocked, when we learned last week that “Los Angeles Zoo chimpanzee kills baby chimp” in front of zoo visitors.

So, knowing this, knowing that chimpanzees do not remain adorable little babies forever, and they are not little sock puppets that we can control, why do people persist in keeping them in their homes? Why do they continue to put their families, their communities, and the chimpanzees themselves at risk? Maybe even more to the point, why do we let them do this?
The U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee recently approved the Captive Primate Safety Act, S. 1324, which prohibits interstate commerce in monkeys, apes, and other nonhuman primates for the exotic pet trade. The bill, introduced by U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., David Vitter, R-La., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., now moves to the full Senate for consideration. Of course, we know that Congress is completely incapable of passing legislation unless they face a massive uprising of angry voters.
And we know that chimpanzee exploiters are like the NRA in their ferocity. Borrowing from Charlton Heston’s famous declaration of gun ownership, I can imagine the private ape owners clenching the chains attached to their beloved chimps’ neck and proclaiming, “I'll give you my chimp when you take it from my cold, dead hands!”
That is assuming they have any hands left, after their pet chimpanzees reach the breaking point and maul them.

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For an insightful discussion of the differences between captive and wild chimpanzee aggression, see Lori Gruen's blog Ethics & Animals, Chimp Attacks, a Birthday, and a Passing.