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.


  1. As a former "chimp owner", (and I wince- 27 years later at this term.) Knowing how sensitive Apes are and how much care they really require- I can no longer accept the idea- "priviledges of private ownership".
    Apes are not objects to "own". They are individuals who deserve to be free, or at least cared for in an accredited Sanctuary or Zoo. There are too many stories of abuse,and mishandling of apes by private owners, even now 27 years later. The breeders need to be stopped nationally, and permits to own an Ape no longer permitted in any of the States.
    USDA needs to crack down and do their job- by changing the existing laws by making them more restrictive and finally inforcing them for a change.
    If we had more "principles", we could pressure the NIH and the Federal Govt much more intensely, to provide more funds to enlarge existing Sanctuaries, and to create new ones. We could demand top priority to retire the Apes that are in jeopardy trapped in compromising private situations around the Country right now.

    Roberta Herman

  2. A very complicated issue. I am not convinced, but would be delighted to be wrong, that AZA zoos are the best place for all the apes considered in this blog.

  3. Dawn, thanks for keeping these issues in the public eye and ear. I really appreciate your courage. Wish I had it, to tell what I have seen over the years in one of these situations discussed above.


    It never ends.....

  5. Thank you Dawn, for being a voice for primates held hostage and exploited by fake scam non-profits and false claims and causes.

    The public needs to know the truth. These imprisoned apes are innocent victims of neglect, emotional abuse, and their owner's insanity and desperation.


  6. Koko is real. She is a charming beautiful "fine gorilla-person". Koko has little understanding of what being a gorilla is, nor does she fully understand her person-hood. Sadly Koko is somewhere between. She is gorilla wired but has never been permitted to bond or experienced gorilla companionship. Koko is human raised and human trained to be Penny's version of Koko. As Gorilla Foundation Ambassador she's been trained to communicate using ASL, and trained with treats to perform. Sadly, Koko is more than a gorilla-person. She is also Penny Patterson's circus performer. When Koko performs, people will donate.

    Ndume is real. Sadly, he is like the unwanted foster kid passed around, overlooked, and neglected. For more than 20 years he has been used as nothing more than a prop appearing to potential donors as Koko's (non)companion and (non)mate. Ndume is sentenced to a life of solitary confinement with little hope of parole.

    Yes, Koko and Ndume are real. The Gorilla Foundation is not.

  7. I love all beings...But ACTION speaks louder than words...An i feel all the good work i see is just masking the problem...And sometimes making it worse for beings.Is medicine for chimpys really helping them or should the almightys way be finale ie survival of the give my last nana to a hungry monkey but it doesnt make it right.And nobody does know if its right.The world is ours at the moment but in the future it may not be..So be ready it may be you in a cage someday because human beings are as dumb as they come.There is another side to the plight of these poor creatures one i feel your love for them is making you blind to..

  8. Say what one wants about the IPLS, but everyone who has followed Kanzi's history knows he has been heavily human acculturated - he uses his lexigram quite naturally. Unlike Koko, who has to be prodded to communicate, Kanzi often keeps a running commentary happening on his day.

    To dump him in a zoo full of regular bonobos would be extremely cruel. His half bonobo half human world may be very unnatural, but it is real enough to him. While certainly IPLS would do well to put him on a gentle weight loss plan, depriving Kanzi of his rich cultural milieu - the only place in the world, really, that has a culture he can comprehend - would be one of the cruellest things that could be done to him.

    1. I agree. I'm going to be perfectly blunt here...

      Frankly, I am surprised Kanzi is still alive. I think it would be a very brave zoo that would risk taking Kanzi, especially in his condition after a lifetime of twinkies and tacos. If he survives a move, he would probably soon die at a new location and then, in essence, the zoo would get blamed for "killing" him.

      Also, my gut tells me that no zoo will touch those bonobos until ownership is turned over for good. Too many legal problems. And don't get me started on the problems of having to negotiate a transfer with a board that goes through a makeover/turnover every six months...

  9. Let the ann people own an ape. Get real, maybe he's happy. Do you have a pet dog, a cat or anything else? What is the difference then. Quit tree hugging the bonobos/ chimps. Worry about human care first

    1. It's always amazing to me that pro-exploitation people think that caring for apes and caring for people are either-or. Thank goodness people can -- and DO -- do both.