Why Chimps Don’t Belong in Circuses

Why Chimps Don’t Belong in Circuses

Some of the best fun you can have is reading blog posts from the Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest, where the chimpanzees and humans together create heartwarming, inspirational — and often educational — photos and stories. Thank you to sanctuary co-director Diana Goodrich, who recently wrote this post about chimpanzees and circuses, and generously gave her permission for us to republish it here:

An eight-year-old chimpanzee named Chance has been in the news lately. Chance is owned by the Rosaire family and has been used in entertainment for his entire life. He has appeared in commercials, television shows and movies, including The Wolf of Wall Street.

The reason Chance and the Rosaires have been in the news recently is due to this footage that PETA obtained of Chance performing with a leash around his neck.

Jody and Burrito

Jody and Burrito

Thirty years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for chimpanzees to appear in circuses and roadside zoo performances. In fact, Jamie, Burrito, and possibly Jody were all used as performers before their years as biomedical research subjects. They lived with trainers and were made to perform in order to entertain people.

Thankfully, we have learned a lot about the nature of chimpanzees over the years and, as a society, we’ve begun to question the appropriateness of using intelligent, social animals in this way. More and more people agree that whales belong in the ocean, not in small aquariums, that elephants shouldn’t be used as props for people to sit on, and that chimpanzees should not be raised by humans and taught to perform tricks just to amuse us.

The Rosaire family has been in the circus business for multiple generations, so it’s understandable that they are stubbornly holding on to their way of life and their views of exotic animals that many, if not most, people have reconsidered.

They argue that they are providing sanctuary for the animals in their care, and they even have legal nonprofit status and the word “sanctuary” in their name Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary.

Certainly, anyone who is familiar with true sanctuaries would immediately realize that putting a chimpanzee on a leash and having people pay to view him perform an act is a circus, not a charitable sanctuary, and that those entities have very different missions. But for those not as familiar, I’m not surprised that the Rosaires have their defenders.

Jamie and Burrito

Jamie and Burrito

It may be true that the Rosaires feel love for the animals in their care, but that doesn’t mean the animals are being afforded the life that they should or could have in an accredited sanctuary.

For more information on the Rosaires, see this page, and for how to distinguish between roadside zoos and sanctuaries, read this from CSNW and this from the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance and share with others.

When you see chimpanzees on television, in movies, or pictured on greeting cards, stop to consider what kind of a life that chimpanzee has. Exotic animal circuses survive only because people continue to pay to see animal performances. There are fewer and fewer chimpanzees being used in entertainment because fewer and fewer people think that they should be used in this way.

We hope the chimpanzees who remain in the entertainment business in the U.S. will be able to experience a different way of life someday, like Jamie, Burrito, and Jody, where the focus is on providing them with hundreds of choices that allow them to be who they are as chimpanzees and where their best interests are the top priority.

Jody, Jamie, Annie and Foxie

Jody, Jamie, Annie and Foxie

How We Can Make the Animal Liberation Movement Stronger

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By Anika Lehde

Hey, NARN Friends. Something has been on my mind lately. Like many people who are working to make the world a better place (for human animals and non-human animals), I’m sometimes disheartened by infighting, rifts, and snide name calling in activist spaces and movements—particularly the animal liberation and vegan movement. I’ve also noticed that there seems to be some major confusion between what I’ll call “Strategic Disagreements” and what is actually “Internal Accountability” to be non-oppressive ourselves.

I’d  like to take a moment to differentiate these two categories of tension within social movements. This is important because the first type, disagreements, doesn’t require any specific sort of response; indifference, cooperation, avoidance, collaboration—while not all ideal—are at least acceptable. But the second type, accountability, requires immediate, constant, and transparent action.

Strategic Disagreements

Most of us have experienced the arguments—sometimes mild, sometimes nasty—about specific tactics, results analysis, personalities, internal politics, public perceptions, etc. within activist communities and movements. We may have been in the mix or on the sidelines, but either way we felt how destructive infighting can be, because it rarely takes place when people are in a learning or listening mode and sometime devolves into personal attacks.

Often the disagreement is around what is truly “effective” activism. Groups claim to have the answer, based on their specific method of research or experience. They see resources or energy going to another tactic and are frustrated by what they perceive to be a waste of time or energy—precious resources in animal activist communities. They may be critical of other groups and express publicly that others are incompetent and jeopardizing the animals themselves.

Sometimes the fights are around how radical or controversial we should be in our activism. The more conservative argue that the negative impressions left by more extreme actions negate their benefit. The more radical argue that anything less that direct action slows progress and creates space for moral ambiguity. There are many more types of strategic disagreements, even, but these are two common examples.

We have been told by our wiser comrades to not fall into this trap, that our infighting is exactly what “the other side” is betting on. You may have even been told that those we fight against have infiltrated the activist ranks and purposely start these fights to keep us inwardly focused and too beleaguered to make any progress.

This may all be true, and most importantly, the often negative and nasty way in which these debates take place pushes new activists away, attracts personalities who thrive in conflict, and may distract from the work at hand. We should not let disagreements on strategy devolve into name calling, mockery, or become the actual focus of our activism. These types of strategic disagreements are very important to discuss, and we should also do everything in our power to have them in constructive ways that increase our knowledge and understanding. But if we can’t come to agreement, we can at least agree to disagree and let our multi-tactic movement move forward without delay.

Internal Accountability

Internal accountability is very different in nature, but can look similar on the surface. It can sometimes even include the same people or be conflated with strategy debates. Trying to create internal accountability, though, means setting standards and norms for social justice spaces that are inclusive, as safe as possible for as many as possible, and don’t allow other forms of oppression to thrive (such as racism, sexism, sexual abuse, classism, or any other oppressive behavior or policies). This sounds easy until we take into account how deeply oppressive behaviors can run, even unexamined within ourselves, and how the very leaders of movements are sometimes the worst perpetrators of oppressive—and even abusive—behavior. Developing spaces that fight oppression on every front is challenging, but must be done to create a strong foundation for animal activism.

When oppressive animal activist policies or leaders are called out or oppressive tactics are identified, those who are unaffected by the abuse often label this process as “infighting” or “whining” and call for its end the same way one might call for those with different tactics to curtail their public arguments. The problem is that these aren’t the same; in fact, calling for accountability within the animal liberation movement is one of the most important things we can do to strengthen our movement, increase our ranks, and improve our strategies. We must hold each other to standards of non-oppression while doing animal activism. This is a never-ending process.

But why?

First, it is the right thing to do. This isn’t obvious to everyone. Those who watch as groups try to remove abusers from their ranks, or implement anti-racist practices, find the discord so uncomfortable (and it is) that they would rather sweep the issues under the rug rather than face them head on. They would rather look the other way and minimize the importance of these issues. This should be unacceptable. Even if if there was no benefit to animal activism as a whole (there is), creating safer spaces for activists should be a priority, because it is the right thing to do for people. Just because we fight for animal liberation doesn’t mean we are for human oppression. Besides, activism is difficult enough—we shouldn’t make it harder for those involved.

Second, it is the strategic thing to do for the animal liberation movement. Activist spaces that allow unchecked misogyny, racism, ableism, transphobia, or any other oppressive behavior to thrive will not attract the strongest and most skilled activists. The best activists will not tolerate an unsafe environment and certainly won’t trust us as peers. Oppressive activist spaces drive away the people with experience in other social justice movements who could bring important new ideas, strategies, and learning to the table. What’s more, our inability to be consistent with an anti-oppression approach will delegitimize the animal liberation movement and reduce the diversity of thought and experiences necessary for creating real change for animals. What it will do instead is attract privileged narcissists who reinforce oppressive hierarchies and who would rather dismiss and mock their activist peers than work to create strong communities of resistance.

For these two reasons, we need to embrace and welcome processes of internal accountability within the animal liberation movement. How this looks on the ground may be different for every group, depending on the current issues they are facing. This could be ensuring that leadership within the organization is non-hierarchical and doesn’t replicate white-supremacy and male-supremacy. It could be making sure there is a documented process for dealing with accusations of abuse or oppressive behavior within the community (and following it). It could mean not accepting when peer groups participate in or use racist, sexist, ableist, and classist tactics, and calling them to accountability when they do (this is what people often confuse as infighting, but is actually movement accountability). It could be creating a culture of learning and sharing about all types of oppression with a book club or a weekly article reading group. It could be creating true and deep connections with other activist communities by showing up in solidarity with those movements (without expectation of reciprocation) so we can learn even more how to infuse our animal activism with anti-oppression strategies. I highly recommend this last step as it is incredibly informative to experience other spaces that are welcoming.

No matter the exact step, it is imperative that we don’t confuse this critically important approach to anti-oppression and internal accountability with the common “infighting” about general tactics and strategies. We also should never dismiss the process of strengthening our movement and building better activist spaces as a distraction. It is not a distraction, but rather a truly foundational part of the work that we do for animals. The oppression of humans and animals has a common enemy, and we can’t fight for one cause (animals) while participating in and propping up other oppressions.

Remember, let’s have constructive debates about tactics, but let’s not ever tolerate oppression. We can fight oppression in all its forms together! Let’s go! If you want to chat with me more on this topic, you can find me on twitter at @veganscore.

About the author:

Anika Lehde is a former NARN board member (2013-2015) and current Advisory Board member. She also volunteers for Food Empowerment Project, where she helps organize volunteers for outreach, fundraising, education, and other vegan food justice programs in Washington State. When not volunteering, Anika is the President of a marketing consulting firm and lead writer for Seattle Vegan Score, a local blog profiling vegan people, events, companies, and animal advocacy.

What Not to Tell Your Kids About Zoos: National Geographic Leads the (Wrong) Way

National Geographic has published a “Family Field Guide” to lying to your children about zoos.

Personally, I take this as a sign that the zoo system is crumbling, when children are asking hard — but obvious — questions and a major organization dedicated to the environment and wildlife wants you to lie to them.

“No matter how innovative the spaces are, seeing wild animals in enclosures can be hard for children,” the post acknowledges. Rather than paint a pretty picture about releasing animals back into the wild (hmmm) and breeding programs (not a pretty picture at all!), how about some honesty regarding the fact that these animals are caged for our pleasure and, for some people, to alleviate human guilt about the extinction of so many animals in the wild.

Children have a lot to teach us about what’s right and wrong when it comes to animals. Maybe parents should be following their lead when it comes to zoos.

Ruby Roth writes children’s books that address these sorts of issues. One called “V Is for Vegan” is particularly wide-ranging and goes beyond animals used for food to talk about zoos and circuses and other forms of entertainment that persecute animals.