Jeesuz, I feel sorry for captive apes! And I’m not talking about the ones who are being shot and killed on America’s highways and byways. I’m referring to the chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, and bonobos who will continue to suffer from our research and advocacy failures.
I am not the only one to feel the frustration. Eugene Cussons, the director of the South African chimpanzee sanctuary where chimps ripped off Andrew Oberle’s fingers, toes, and testicle, shared his anger and disappointment today.
“We already know what the problems are,” Cussons wrote on his Facebook page. “Chimps being taken out of the wild, chimps being sold as pets, chimps being BRED for the exotic pet market, chimps being used in entertainment, and governments are not doing enough to stop this.”
“In the past few years I have also become angry and disappointed with the world, but my experiences have given me some understanding of why this continues unless there is a radical CHANGE.”
I agree with Cussons, we need change. But it is so hard.
It is difficult, if not impossible, for the ape advocacy community to be taken seriously by policy leaders when “researchers” from one of the (formerly) foremost ape organizations goes on NPR and actually declares that the bonobo Kanzi can talk. Yes, speak. In English. In a raspy whisper. If we had any doubts about the Doctor Doolittles at the Great Ape Trust Bonobo Hope Sanctuary and Loony Bin, those doubts were set in concrete with this recent Radiolab program on NPR. Science, my foot.
And the “research” being conducted by that other great ape superstar? I was told that two research associates left The Gorilla Foundation “due to the lack of scientific information, and restrictions on being able to write and publish.” Caregivers have left because of feeling of powerlessness over the care of Ndume and Koko (caregiving staff is now down to four people, quite a drop from the glory days when there were 15), but others left because they thought they would be contributing to science and realized that “science is somewhat non-existent at the foundation.”
Cussons points out that, in his view, “there is no question that there are [a lot] of experts working towards saving endangered species. Personally, I think that WE need to start making our VOICES heard so we can give power to these organizations.”
And then he hits the crux of the problem. “[T]here are millions of people out there that can and must make a difference but there is no MOVEMENT for them to gather.”
“There is no MOVEMENT...” He didn’t mean the verb, as in no one is moving. He meant the noun, as in “there is no coalescing group that will coordinate strategic actions.” I strongly agree. The U.S. Congress has had legislation since 2008 to protect captive great apes -- and not a single floor vote in all that time! Another bill to restrict the private breeding and selling of apes sits dormant on the Senate floor. We have one animal welfare advocacy group going in this direction, another in that direction, and thousands of people clicking on a “like” button or a petition signature to no effect. If someone tried to start up a new advocacy effort, specifically and solely to protect U.S. captive apes, they would ignored, or worse, viewed as a competitor for scarce donor dollars. (Can someone ‒ please ‒ prove me wrong?)
“A campaign or movement should be born to bring like-minded people together,” Cussons wrote. “Please don't think that there aren't solutions out there, if enough minds come together we will see more solutions and more action…”
Ah, if only…