Sunday, April 3, 2016

Unlocking the cage?

An intriguing movie will open in theaters this June. Unlocking the Cage is the story of lawyer Steven Wise's struggle to obtain legal rights for non-humans, especially chimpanzees.

There is no question Wise's cause is just. Many, many animal experts wish we could take chimpanzees (and orcas and elephants, etc., etc.) out of harmful captive situations. But is the American society ready to grant legal rights to non-human primates? Is that the fight we want to take on right now? I have to admit that I would feel more comfortable about the movie's premise (and the legal effort's prospects) if it didn't prominently feature Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, who has a record of loony beliefs, including her assertion that bonobos can talk. (See What the hell is going on at the Great Ape Trust?)

Unlocking the Cage may have the tremendous impact of Blackfish. Alternatively, it could set back efforts to get research and pet chimps into sanctuaries, especially if it shows Steven and Sue going off the deep end. I sincerely hope it's the former.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Announcement marks the beginning of the end for sales of pet chimps

Today is a day that will go down in U.S. history. It is the beginning of the end of selling chimpanzees as pets or for use in entertainment. In a brilliant (and long-awaited) decision, the Fish and Wildlife Service finally announced that they were ending their split designation on the status of chimps. While they have long classified wild chimpanzees as endangered, they had not extended that protection to captive chimpanzees in the U.S. That split designation -- which effectively ends in September -- allowed chimpanzee breeders to sell baby chimps to naive people who thought they could handle a chimpanzee in their home for 40 or 50 years. These breeders could sell to anyone, compliments of Uncle Sam.

People (like my Aunt Elsie, pictured here) have
owned chimps as pets since the 1950s. With today's
fantastic announcement, the door is quickly
closing on private chimp ownership.
No more! Well, almost. Under this new rule, FWS will require a permit to buy or sell a chimpanzee across state lines -- but FWS will only issue permits “for scientific research related to the species or to enhance the propagation or survival of the species.” Unfortunately, the exploiters don’t need a federal permit if they buy or sell within the state, although state and local laws and regulations may apply.

This new restriction will put the nail in the coffin of chimp trade emanating out of Missouri, where a breeder sells baby chimps and uses the money to support the care of over a dozen adult chimpanzees she holds for more breeding (or because the would-be owners returned their chimp). This breeder is the last one of a nasty industry here in the U.S. Let’s hope she uses her head in deciding what she’s going to do now that her business is limited to sales in Missouri.

The biomedical research industry faces similar restrictions, even as far as transporting chimpanzee blood across state lines. The required permit may only be issued if it helps chimpanzee survival. Researchers in invasive biomedical programs have been reeling from the withdrawal of support previously provided by the National Institutes of Health, and this decision heaps another major requirement on their increasingly onerous regulatory burden.

But we need to celebrate this day for another reason, as well. It is not only the beginning of the end of treating chimps as commodities, it is the beginning of a new beginning of a united effort to give these magnificent captive animals the respect and care they deserve. Look at the chimpanzee defenders who support this decision: the U.S. government, animal welfare organizations, and zoos. The petition that started this process had a strong coalition: The Humane Society of the United States, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Jane Goodall Institute, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance, the Fund for Animals, Humane Society International, and the New England Anti-Vivisection Society. They are all on the same page, striving for the same goals, working together!

Dr. Steve Ross provides pivotal guidance in U.S. captive
chimp welfare.
I know that a lot of the credit is going to go to Dr. Jane Goodall, who wrote a strong letter arguing for “uplisting” captive chimps to endangered species status, but my hero in this is Dr. Steve Ross, the dynamic director of the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes, at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo. Ross was the zoo association’s guiding hand for the FWS petition, and is the behind-the-scenes person who quietly provides guidance, advice, and expertise in just about any area that will make life better for chimps (as a species and as individuals). He is always objective, rarely judgmental, and is trusted by nearly everyone who has ever worked with chimps. He was a major mover in developing the coalition that petitioned FWS for the change, and his reasoned and caring influence will be a major asset as chimp care in the U.S. continues to expand into a new beginning.

I reported in 2011, “FWS is the best hope for giving chimpanzees the respect and protection they deserve. FWS can help the country overcome its legacy of zoo chimp shows and other mistakes.” Today, with zoos, sanctuaries, and the ape advocacy community working together with the federal government, the future for U.S. captive chimpanzees has never been brighter

Friday, May 29, 2015

Join Hare in urging New York Blood Center: Don't abandon chimpanzees for whom you promised to provide lifetime care!

The following is by Dr. Brian Hare, from his change.org petition

Sixty six captive chimpanzees in Liberia, Africa have been abandoned by the New York Blood Center (NYBC) -- an organization with assets of $450 million and major corporate partners. The chimpanzees are in danger of dehydration and starvation. Please sign the petition to urge NYBC to reinstate funding for this chimpanzee colony before it’s too late!

For years, NYBC used these chimpanzees in medical research, infecting many of them with hepatitis viruses. After decades of confinement, these chimpanzees do not have the skills to survive in the wild. They are completely reliant on humans for survival, but despite previously committing to the lifetime care of these chimpanzees, NYBC recently withdrew all funding for the care of the chimpanzees in March. Effectively they have left these poor chimpanzees to suffer from dehydration and starvation.

The New York Blood Center is a large American organization that provides blood, develops blood related products, but it also conducts medical research. In the 1970's, NYBC worked with the Liberian Institute for Biomedical Research to create Vilab II to obtain and breed chimpanzees for use in medical research.

After using and profiting from them for decades, NYBC decided the chimps were no longer needed for future research and retired them to small islands near the lab. NYBC publicly proclaimed their commitment to the lifetime care of the chimpanzees, but walked away from their ethical responsibility when they stopped all funding for the chimpanzees' care.

We owe our thanks to the longtime caretakers who have continued to care for the chimpanzees voluntarily but this is not a sustainable solution for the chimpanzees or their caretakers. Without money to provide for the needs of these chimpanzees, they will suffer from dehydration and starvation.

These chimps need your voice to survive so please sign my petition asking NYBC to fulfill their promise of lifetime care for these chimpanzees. I will also send your messages to NYBC’s corporate partners (Metlife, IBM and Citigroup) to let them know about your concern.

After signing the petition, please visit the fundraising page to donate for the emergency care of these chimps.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

New book reveals amazing details about the Iowa bonobos, other apes, and the researchers who exploit them

“He and his colleagues wrote about the evolution of morality deep in the primate order, about how empathy is alive and well among the apes, and had very effectively shown that humans and bonobos and chimps and orangutans are almost the same in capacities to think and feel. Yet they gleaned their insights mainly by studying apes imprisoned for life in places no one wanted to show me.”

Exactly! Finally, someone understands what has been bothering me about Frans de Waal for the last several years. In a newly released book, SMARTS, author/journalist Elaine Dewar looked behind de Waal’s public facade, and has the guts to call him out.

Even better, she’s looked into the unpaid taxes, court records, and “research” history of the Great Ape Trust / Iowa Primate Learning Center / Bonobo Hope / Ape Cognition and Conservation Initiative, and has uncovered details behind the shenanigans that have made them a laughingstock. The fights over ownership of the bonobos, the dysfunction as the ever-changing board of directors keeps kicking Sue Savage-Rumbaugh out of the picture, the continuing funding debacle, and the legal “scorched earth” strategy (promised by Savage-Rumbaugh’s attorney) is so much worse than I imagined.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Ape justice

People can have a schizophrenic view of great apes.

On the one hand, we want to protect apes in their natural habitat, and condemn those who traffic in the black market for the pet trade. On the other hand, we condone Leonardo DiCaprio and others who support the exploitation of captive apes for human entertainment.

In the latest news, we resoundingly applaud the news that a New York County Supreme Court Justice has granted legal standing on behalf of two chimpanzees being used in biomedical experimentation, to force their release to Save the Chimps. (See this blog post from Born Free for the best explanation I’ve seen on the “writ of habeas corpus” excitement.) On the other hand, we ignore the plight of two gorillas living for years in trailers while a defunct language experiment enters its final death throes.

The public has been intrigued by blondes and apes
since King Kong fell in love with Fay Wray in 1933.
Oh, I see the difference. The secretive biomedical industry is made up of evil men committing unspeakable acts, while the open and transparent language experimenter is a pretty blonde who cuddles with her captives. However, the differences may not be as wide as we imagine.

People are trying to free two chimps -- Hercules and Leo -- from a university research program. Some information is out there on Stony Brook University’s research on chimps. Dr. Susan Larson wants to determine if “australopithecine bipedality was transitional between that of apes and humans.” One of her students, Nathan Thompson, is “performing a kinematic investigation of head motion and its relationship to gait in both humans and chimpanzees.” Dr. Brigitte Demes’ current research “addresses the facultative bipedal locomotion of nonhuman primates (capuchin monkeys and chimpanzees) with the goal of better understanding the evolutionary changes related to the adoption of habitual bipedal posture and gait in early hominins.” I assume they are using Hercules and Leo in this research. (Let me clear: I think the research is of questionable value, and it certainly is not worth the life-long price demanded of the chimpanzees and monkeys.)

Now let’s compare this to the information available about Koko and Ndume, at The Gorilla Foundation. We don’t know if any research is being conducted. We don’t even know, for sure, that both of the gorillas are still alive. They have always treated feces-flinging Ndume like shit, but now he has dropped entirely from sight. As recently as April 9, the Foundation was touting its “most comprehensive conservation effort to-date (sic) – featuring BOTH Koko and Michael.” Not Koko and Ndume, but LONG DEAD Michael, who passed away 15 years ago.



Seeing the latest list of Gorilla Foundation employees adds fuel to the speculation about the gorillas. A couple of years ago, in its heyday, the Foundation employed nine caregivers. The information on their website now shows two caregivers (who also handle administrative functions) and a recent high school graduate working as nighttime monitor. That is not a sufficient crew to take care of two screwed up adult gorillas. (It is interesting to note they boast FOUR executives and a personal assistant to the director, in addition to two administrative staffers. Speaks volumes about priorities, doesn’t it?) So, are they understaffed for two gorillas, or staffed barely well enough for one?

I heartily support the efforts of the Nonhuman Rights Project to get the New York chimpanzees released to a safe sanctuary. I wish we could do the same for the California gorillas. Even if we can’t send Ndume to a sanctuary or to a zoo more responsible than his owner (Cincinnati Zoo), I wish we could know that he is alive and well. And that Michael has not come back from the dead.