Saturday, August 24, 2013

Notorious chimp owner goes out of business, is arrested

This week we saw more evidence that the era of chimpanzee entertainment is ending. Chimp owner and exploiter James “Mike” Casey has left the arena, in notorious fashion. Through his company “A ‘Great Ape’ Experience,” Casey has been renting out chimpanzees and a capuchin monkey for use in TV, films, ads, and events. In June, we learned he was trying to sell his chimps. In July, his USDA exhibitor license was cancelled. In August, we learned of his arrest.

Casey's ad started appearing in June, 2013

PETA reported yesterday that they obtained records, through a public-records request, that reveal that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission arrested Casey last month at a roadside zoo, where he intended to sell three chimpanzees unlawfully. (Also see Las Vegas KLAS CH8 News reports.)

Why would Casey break the law to get rid of his chimps?

One reason is that he is probably desperate. He doesn’t have any place to keep them. For the past couple of years he has been living in Nevada, but his luck ran out. No county in Nevada will give a permit to keep chimpanzees in a community where parents want to keep their kids safe. Clark County denied him a permit last year. Nye County authorities denied a permit this year. No responsible local government wants him and his chimpanzees, for good reason. Mark Winer, a Casey friend, told KLAS News that the “chimps were kept in cages inside a darkened, brutally hot recreational vehicle and were rarely allowed out. ‘He would absolutely hit them atop the head with his knuckles,’ Winer said. ‘(The RV) was horrible. I wouldn't stay in there. I wouldn't let my worst enemy stay in there.” Amazingly, after talking to Casey in 2011, USDA APHIS Animal Care Inspector Warren Striplin recommended that the APHIS Office of Investigative and Enforcement Services conduct an official investigation of Casey. Even more amazingly (or maybe not), investigators evidently declined.

Maybe Casey was trying to sell illegally because owning chimps isn’t as fun as, say, a barrel of monkeys. While Casey cuddles with his adorable chimps in public, and displays pictures of kids cuddling with them as well, his friends know the real story. Again, from Winer: “He would pound on the cage, yell, take a stick and hit the cage or not feed them until they stop making noise. Mike has a very bad temper. He doesn't show that to the public.” Worse has been alleged. Winer said Casey cares about the chimps only because they are his meal ticket. If that’s the case, Casey has been on a starvation diet for the past couple of years, at least if he was telling the truth to federal Agricultural Department inspectors.

When animal exhibitors travel with their animals, they are required to file itineraries with USDA. In Casey’s case, his gigs have been few and far between. You can see the frustration in his itineraries. These are from his actual reports to USDA:

December 12, 2009: “We are traveling to Las Vegas & Pahrump, NV from Dec 12-January 12, 2009, with (3) chimps Hannah, Kenzy & Bentley, and capuchin Abu. It has been really tough and slow for work out here in the Midwest. We will be looking for property & employment.”

January 12, 2010: “We are traveling between Las Vegas & Pahrump, NV and over to Southern, CA from Jan 12 - February 15, 2010, with (3) chimps Hannah, Kenzy & Bentley, and capuchin Abu. We are continuing to look for property. There has been no exhibiting of the animals if a job comes up I will notify you immediately.”

Again, on February 15, 2010: “We are traveling between Pahrump, NV, Las Vegas and over to Southern, CA from Feb 16 - March 16 2010, with (3) chimps Hannah, Kenzy & Bentley, and capuchin Abu. We are continuing to look for property & work. There has been no exhibiting of the animals if a job comes up I will notify you immediately.”

April 10, 2010: “We are traveling between Las Vegas, down to Laughlin, Pahrump, NV & Southern CA from Apr 17 - May 17, 2010, with (3) chimps Hannah, Kenzy & Bentley, and capuchin Abu. We are continuing our search for property & work.”

May 8, 2010: “We are traveling between Las Vegas, NY and over to Southern, CA from April 25 - May 25 2010, with (3) chimps Hannah, Kenzy & Bentley, and capuchin Abu. We are continuing to look for property & work. There currently is a possibility of a day job on May 22 in Los Angeles, CA, I will notify you if it becomes a real job.”

In his reports through the summer, Casey continues to bemoan the lack of work, continuing through Sept 2 and 21, 2010, when Casey reports that “We are currently staying with a friend at his residence: [redacted] I am continuing to look for work and for property in Las Vegas or in California.” On Oct 15, Casey reports “We just moved to: [redacted] I am continuing to look for work and for property in Las Vegas or in California.” Then the reports end for at least six months. (More recent itinerary reports, if they exist, are not available.)

On June 27, 2013, the USDA inspector attempted to inspect the chimps’ living conditions. The inspector reported: "A responsible adult was not available to accompany APHIS Officials during the inspection process at 0830 on 6/27/2012. Spoke with Mr Casey by telephone at time of attempted inspection. He stated he was out of town. He also stated he did not intend to pursue USDA licensing. Mr. Casey is currently licensed, but has not passed a site approval inspection. Until such time as he cancels his license, he remains subject to inspection."

On July 5, the USDA exhibitor license for JAMES M. CASEY, dba A "GREAT APE" EXPERIENCE, was cancelled. There is no more work for (3) chimps Hannah, Kenzy & Bentley, and capuchin Abu.

James “Mike” Casey has brought this mess down on himself. It is just really unfortunate that his chimps and monkey are the ones who have suffered, and continue to suffer. Casey had a chance to do the honorable thing, finally. But instead of working out an agreement with a reputable sanctuary, Casey allegedly tried to dump them in a roadside zoo in Florida. They were confiscated by Florida wildlife officials and are now at the non-accredited Suncoast Primate Sanctuary – an outfit that was in non-compliance with minimum conditions during USDA APHIS inspections in 2011 and 2013.

Time and public awareness have passed Casey by. The public is no longer willing to accept the idiocy of using chimpanzees in entertainment. It helps ease the outrage to know that Mike Casey may finally be held accountable. But the fate of Mike Casey’s chimpanzees and monkey are the real crime here. Let’s hope Florida officials give them a chance at a real life in a real legitimate sanctuary.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Changing historical Detroit Zoo chimp facts

I’ve mentioned (like, a couple hundred times) that one of dad’s favorite chimps from the 1940s and ‘50s was Jo Mendi II, named after Detroit Zoo’s money-making trend-setting FIRST Jo Mendi chimpanzee. Well. Just shows you’re never too old to learn new facts. Come to find out, there was a Jo Mendi before the Detroit Zoo’s first Jo Mendi! The zoo’s first Jo Mendi was actually the second Jo, and Jo II (who dad trained) was actually Jo III. And Jo Mendi 3 (1979-2005) is actually the fourth. (The Detroit Zoo really liked the name Jo Mendi – thus we have multiple generations of Detroiters who all think they saw “Jo Mendi.” And, in a way, they did, in the sense that they saw a smart chimp in costume, doing zany tricks and being exploited by the zoo.)
Jo Mendi II/III is in the center. Dad is the chimp trainer on the right.
Thanks to a wonderful blogpost, The True Story of JO MENDI, now we know the rest of the story (as Paul Harvey used to say). And that story is fascinating. Step right up, folks, and read all about it! The original Jo Mendi was at the Scopes Trial! He was in vaudeville, movies, circuses and carnivals - but he never came to the Detroit Zoo. The second Jo Mendi (who was the Jo Mendi who ended up at Detroit) was in a Billy Rose revue! (If you’re trying to place the name, see James Caan in Funny Lady.) And more. That’s “more,” as in Detroit blogger Ed Golick thankfully reminding readers that while the public loved our entertaining chimps, we didn’t know about the abuse behind the curtain.

Many, many thanks to Ed for bringing these facts to light. I can’t help but think that these facts about yet another Jo Mendi further illustrates the cynical exploitation that is our shameful history of chimpanzees in the United States. That exploitation is a fact. Perhaps, though, with the upcoming U.S. Fish and Wildlife decision about chimpanzee endangered species status in the U.S., that fact will soon become history.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Humans support a chimp who supports an orangutan – and you can help with just a vote!

In 2005, four chimpanzees escaped from a depressing roadside zoo. While they dashed around the grounds – and actually made it to the downtown area – the zoo director shot and killed three of them: Reuben, Jimmy Joe, and Tyler. The fourth, an enterprising 15-year-old chimp named Ripley, ran back to his enclosure and let himself back in. I guess watching your companions die violently will end any misconceptions of freedom.

Ripley is now back in the public eye. Not as a basket case who attacked a caregiver, which would be understandable, or as a wretched example of primate PTSD. Ripley, it turns out, is an artist. He is one of six chimpanzee artists involved in a contest put on by the Humane Society of the United States. He has a chance to win $10,000 for the Center for Great Apes, the sanctuary that rescued him, if he garners enough votes from the public.

The American public once adored Ripley. Before his trauma at Zoo Nebraska, Ripley was in movies and television, in Ace Ventura and on Seinfeld. However, like every entertainment chimp before and after him, he grew too strong for his handlers – so he was dumped at a pitiful zoo. After witnessing the deaths of his companions, he was sent to a breeding facility (where he failed to breed), and then to another. After a year there, the trainer agreed to send Ripley to the Center for Great Apes.

Ripley was a real audience-pleaser on the Seinfeld TV show.

The Center for Great Apes is giving Ripley the best life a captive ape could hope for. He now lives with several old friends and a new one: Bubbles, Michael Jackson’s discarded pet chimpanzee. And he is painting.

The Humane Society’s online art contest asks us to vote for the painting of one of six chimps, all representing superb sanctuaries. Choosing just one is difficult (they are all wonderful!) but if you don’t have a particular favorite already, I hope you’ll vote for Ripley.

As it turns out, CGA will use the money to help offset some tremendous medical bills incurred by a recent life-and-death struggle of former entertainer orangutan BamBam. That’s what makes a vote for Ripley so… I don’t know… so “circle of life.” Humans supporting a chimp who is supporting an orangutan. It just shows how we’re all in this together.

  • Read more about Ripley, here.
  • Charles Siebert wrote about Ripley and the Center for Great Apes in his book, Wauchula Woods Accord. (If you read it, know that Siebert made up the book’s ending, as a “literary device.” He has admitted that his story about going into the apes’ night house and touching the chimp’s hand is false.)
UPDATE 8/29/2013: HSUS announced that Ripley won 3rd place, for a $2,500 grant for Center for Great Apes. Many thanks to all who voted for Ripley!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A tale of two books

I haven’t written much in the blog lately. I write a lot at work, so I really need a motivating factor to sit down to the blog… Those motivations are usually when I see people disrespecting apes, or using apes for their own selfish gains, or when I am inspired by compassionate concern for apes. So when I learn of two new chimp books that are on the publishing horizon, I naturally wonder about the authors’ motivations.

 In his upcoming compassionate book about chimpanzees,
Halloran writes about Jo Mendi II and my dad.
In the first case, the author’s motivations are simple yet complex: this is the book he had to write. I am privileged to see Andrew Halloran’s first draft of Lion Shaped Mountain (working title), and it is filled with inspiring stories as well as heartbreaking histories of chimps and the people who used and abused them. He weaves his narratives between the past and the present, and I marvel at his perception. Most important to me, personally, are his insights as he briefly shares the story of my dad and Jo Mendi II, the Detroit zoo chimpanzee who meant the most to him. I hold my breath as I read it, and then I cry. And now I hope… I hope that readers will understand and learn from the all too real experience.

In the second case, the author’s motivation is exploitation and greed. Doc Antle, the self-serving charlatan who exploits his animals for profit (while masquerading as a conservationist), is once again publishing a book of photographs that add to the grotesquely darling perception of apes as cute human toys. Scheduled for release in November, just in time for Christmas sales, his upcoming attempt at manipulation is The Tiger Cubs and the Chimp, another in his series of anthropomorphous swindles, as he continues to con naive animal lovers into thinking that baby animals just adore being forced into unnatural situations for long photo shoots and book tours. I don’t know for sure, but the chimp featured in this book may be his third chimp infant from breeder Connie Casey.

So. We have two books, both of them sad in their own way. The first one is heartbreaking because it honestly relates the disgraceful way we have treated chimps in the past; the second one is wretched for the way it treats chimps today. We have one situation where the author is pouring his heart into his book, finding the words that will help people understand chimps as they are, as they are meant to be. We have another situation where the author is manipulating cute pics of baby tiger cubs and a chimp to promote his faux “preserve for endangered animals,” creating an illusion that fulfills our fantasies of how we want our animals to be.

I wonder which book is going to make the most sales. I’ll bet, sadly, it’s not the book that offers the reader a deeper examination of the complex issues and emotions that have harmed chimpanzees through the centuries. It won’t be the book that inspires “ah, I understand.” It will be the book that inspires “aw, ain’t that cute?!” And that is truly sad.