Captive Apes in the USA

Posted by guest blogger, Lori Robinson, founder of AfricaInside.

From the start of the Great Ape Summit, the organizers stated to the audience, “the aim is to do things differently, this will not be a typical conference.”

They are being true to their words.

One of the most talked about sessions so far, was moderated by filmmaker Carol Fleisher, whose Discovery Channel Video, Why Dogs Smile & Chimps Cry, demonstrates the emotional realm of animals from sad dogs, grieving chimps and lab rats who laugh.

Titled, Captive Apes in the USA, this session’s panel was a mix of an animal rights activist, zoo and sanctuary representatives, and the Chief of Primate Behavior at a Texas bio-medical research lab. Needless to say, the session was lively and at times heated, with an involved audience whose emotionally charged questions fuelled the discussion.

Rob Schumaker from the Indianapolis Zoo has had an ongoing relationship with a male orangutan for 30 years (the longest time they have been apart in that time was for 3 months). “We know each other well, “ said Rob who made the case for ‘new zoos’. “Zoos no longer take animals from the wild (extractive methods) but are breeding programs” and he believes, “may be the only way we are keeping certain species from extinction, like the orangutan.”

Sanctuaries differ from zoos – anyone can open a sanctuary in the US (the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries is trying to change that). True sanctuaries, says Jen Feuerstein, Director of Save the Chimps, the largest chimp sanctuary in the world with 250 chimps, do not have their animals on display, do not reap financial benefits from them, and are there for the sole purpose of providing the animals the most natural environment possible to allow the animals to live as close to their wild-selves as possible. All of the chimpanzees at Save the Chimps were rescued from the pet, entertainment and bio-medical research industries. CHIMP_index

If, as has been proven over and over, animals have emotions – they feel pain, sadness, loneliness, joy – then it is not right to use them for our purposes says Senior VP of Peta, Dan Mathews. Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is 100% against using animals in Entertainment (they are going after the soon to be released movie The Wolf of Wall Street which shows Leonardo DiCapprio with a chimp dressed in shorts), in Research, and believe all animals belong in the wild, or if that is not possible, in sanctuaries.  Commenting on Steve Schapiro’s slide presentation showing the Anders Cancer Center’s 150 chimps voluntarily choosing to participate in research, and living in cement corrals void of greenery or trees (“the apes would escape”), Dan said, “Steve makes jail sound like a spa.”

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