Chimpanzee’s Solitary Confinement Comes to an End
It’s a whole new world for Joe, a chimpanzee who has been held in captivity since the day he was born. He was recently moved from a sleazy roadside zoo to a lush sanctuary in Florida called Save the Chimps, where he can climb, play and make friends.
It’s believed that Joe was born in 1989, raised by humans and, while a juvenile, used in the entertainment industry. The Mobile Zoo, a roadside zoo in Alabama, acquired him in 1999 from animal trainer Steve Martin’s Working Wildlife. Even though chimpanzees are highly social animals who thrive in extended family groups, documentation shows that Joe had always lived alone at The Mobile Zoo, except when he was introduced to a couple of other chimpanzees for a brief time.
For nearly two decades, Joe’s entire world consisted of a horse stall and a barren enclosure no larger than a dog run, with only a few hoses and toddler toys for “entertainment.” He lived—if you can call it that—on a packed-dirt floor behind double layers of chain-link fence. The Mobile Zoo encouraged visitors to throw peanuts at him.
Indeed, the standard of care at The Mobile Zoo is so poor that the U.S. Department of Agriculture filed an official complaint against the facility in 2015, a case that is still pending.
PETA Files Suit
In 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it was eliminating a loophole that excluded captive chimpanzees from the protections of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Since the new rule went into effect, all chimpanzees—whether held captive or living in the wild—are now considered endangered. The ESA prohibits “takes” of endangered animals and makes it unlawful to wound, harass or otherwise harm them.
PETA and two concerned citizens filed an ESA lawsuit against The Mobile Zoo and its director, John Hightower, in January. Our lawsuit alleged that the roadside zoo violated the ESA by isolating Joe from other members of his species and denying him the complex environment that he needed.
We secured placement for him at a reputable sanctuary and were ready to arrange for his transport and the veterinary care necessary for his relocation.
When Hightower and The Mobile Zoo finally agreed to do the right thing for Joe and relinquish him to Save the Chimps, we agreed to dismiss our lawsuit.
Save the Chimps, which is accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, will carefully integrate Joe at his own pace and within his comfort zone. The skilled sanctuary staff have experience integrating chimpanzees from all different backgrounds, including those who have been isolated for long periods of time and will be able to help Joe find his way in an appropriate social group—and that’s already happening!
When Joe met a lovely chimpanzee named Geraldine through a barrier, he immediately starting panting. In chimpanzee language, this is like saying, “Hello.” Chimpanzees also pant to let others know that “it’s all good.” When the door between them was opened, Joe and Geraldine greeted each other. She walked over to his side and he gave her a big hug. Joe spent a lot of time grooming Geraldine, a sign of comfort and friendship.
Later, the two new friends moved outdoors and spent time roaming around the enclosure together. More happy days are surely ahead.
Joe may not have understood the significance, but one of the first to welcome him to Florida was renowned primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall, who stopped by for a visit while Joe was on his way to the sanctuary.
He is the sixth formerly solitary chimpanzee PETA has gotten moved to Save the Chimps in the past three years—and the previous five are all now thriving in social groups with other chimpanzees.
Other Chimps Need You
Unfortunately, other chimpanzees are still suffering in solitary confinement—including 17 of them, who are confined at Missouri State Primate Foundation:
We will keep working until no chimpanzee suffers alone in a zoo cage.
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