Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A new era for apes in entertainment and advertising

All my life, since watching dad train the Detroit Zoo chimpanzees in the 1950s, I've known how delightful chimps can be in entertainment. All those decades, I was ignorant about what the chimps experienced. The horror of being taken, forever, from a loving mother. The fear instilled during the training process. The pain of chains, pulled teeth, and small cages that are often the facts of life behind the “entertainment” experience. The sadness of missing tickles and grooming from other chimpanzees. The screwed up culture of living by weird human obsessions, like dressing the chimps in costumes and putting them on pills.

Now, finally, there is an achievable alternative. It is a new era.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Ape ownership: it is the principle of the thing

One thing you can say for animal lovers: we sure are a principled bunch. Note how much of our treatment of great apes – and each other – is based on principle. After all, aren't we all taught to fight for our principles, especially in protecting "family"? And where does that leave us?

Mike Casey, the chimpanzee breeder who uses his trained chimps for parties and advertising, firmly believes it is his right to train, keep, beat, and use his animals as he sees fit, even if it means flouting community zoning regulations. “They are my family,” Casey said, when local officials in Las Vegas denied his permit to keep the chimps in a residential neighborhood. He subsequently moved them to Nye County, Nevada, where he also doesn’t have a permit to keep them.

On the other hand, PETA representatives – who are fighting for the principles they believe in – are urging the Nye county officials to put the interests of the chimps and the community above Casey’s desires.

CH 8 says this is Casey's ad
(Update 6/10/13: Las Vegas TV station 8 is reporting that Casey has put his chimps up for sale. What a stupid, stubborn ass: after all the money he made from exploiting chimps, he should pay to give those chimpanzees a good life at a sanctuary.)

(Update 8/23/13: Reportedly, Mike Casey has been arrested by Florida wildlife agents, for allegedly trying to illegally sell his chimps there.)

The standoff continues in the Curtis Shepperson case, who is also keeping four chimpanzees illegally in a backyard “zoo,” without the required county permits. Hanover County, Virginia, officials told him he could face criminal charges if he doesn't get rid of the four chimps by June 23. (Shepperson has permits for two other chimps.) They are like family, Shepperson told reporters.

On the other hand, Save the Chimps, the sanctuary best situated to take in the Shepperson chimpanzees, is standing by its principles and won’t take them. “Mr. Shepperson has not so far agreed to send all six chimps to sanctuary,” Jen Feuerstein told me in February. “STC has a policy that individuals giving up custody of chimpanzees must not engage in further commercial/entertainment/research/pet activity with chimpanzees.” (Jen also notes that, in February, they did not have capacity to take in additional chimpanzees, “but hope to at some point this year.”)

(Update 6/10/13: Unlike Mike Casey, the Sheppersons have decided to do the right thing. They are giving the chimps up to the Houston Zoo, where they will be able to stay together as a group.)

Kanzi's gross obesity doesn't seem to bother
his "principled" owner.
Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary continues to struggle with its principled stand in maintaining Sue Savage-Rumbaugh’s control over several bonobos. Rumbaugh has assumed the role of mother for little bonobo Teco, asserting her right to raise a “bicultural” family. (As this picture shows, Rumbaugh’s principle for feeding grossly overweight Kanzi is “let them eat cake.”)

On the other hand, the animal welfare community isn’t playing along with Rumbaugh any longer. IPLS evidently raised less than $1,000 at a recent “VIP fundraising event,” and had to cancel another fundraiser, according to this article. (Still, if this article is correct, IPLS continues to sell “private sessions with bonobos including Kanzi,” despite being told by federal inspectors to stop close contact between the bonobos and the public.)

Penny Patterson, over at the Gorilla Foundation, continues her principled stand in fundraising, using a calendar to perpetuate the (false) “links” between Koko’s kitten and anti-poaching efforts in Africa. Penny has, of course, become Koko’s surrogate family, friend… and…? Is there more to the “show Koko your nipples,” story? Ah, principled ex-employees aren’t talking (publicly).

And then we have poor gorilla Ndume, still isolated at Gorilla Foundation. I’m not sure what principle Penny is basing her treatment of Ndume on. On the other hand, I understand that the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s Gorilla Species Survival Plan’s most recent draft management plan is recommending that Cincinnati Zoo take Ndume back. (Ndume is owned by Cinci, on loan to Penny). I also heard that Cincinnati Zoo agrees they need to take Ndume back. Unfortunately for people who are anxious about improving Ndume’s life, the zoo folks have a principle that prohibits them from sharing animal management information with us… so we all just have to cross our fingers and hope.

Dwight Eisenhower said, “a people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.” I think he’s on to something. I would argue that Casey, Shepperson, Rumbaugh, and Patterson are not differentiating between the “privileges” of private ownership and the principles of humane respect for the animals under their control. Laws, regulations, and community ethics towards animals – the principles of ape ownership – are changing. It’s time for ape owners to adapt to the new set of principles. Before everyone loses.