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.)