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.

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