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Counting Your Hairy Cousins

19 October 2000 7:00 pm
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Furry survey Activists intend to count every great ape in the U.S.

Does your orangutan have a room of his own? That's the kind of question the Great Ape Project (GAP) aims to answer in its first census of U.S. great apes, planned for next year. If the project goes as planned, it will log the living conditions and mental health of most of the thousands of gorillas, chimps, bonobos (pygmy chimps), and orangutans in the United States.

GAP is an international lobby group which believes no ape should have to live in captivity. GAP-USA's ambitious census will require a lot of volunteers, so this summer it put out a call for people who will "find and tell the stories of each and every" ape in the United States, be it in a zoo, circus, park, lab, or on Michael Jackson's estate. The questions in GAP's census form, downloadable from its Web site, go even further than those of this year's human census in the United States, covering not only plumbing, crowding, and sanitation, but also diet, habits, privacy, and well-being.

The purpose? "Making this data available to the entire world will help give nonhuman great apes in the U.S. the individuality they deserve and will challenge those who currently believe they are entitled to own, abuse or otherwise oppress these individuals," according to the GAP Web site. Paul Waldau, executive director of GAP and a veterinarian at Tufts University in Grafton, Massachusetts, emphasizes that this census will be an "ongoing effort" to keep the living conditions of the nation's apes in the public eye, in hopes of helping society get over its "conditioned ethical blindness" to apes in captivity.

The group has about 100 volunteers lined up so far, Waldau says. Employees of zoos, where most apes reside, are happy to cooperate, he says. But volunteers will have to use their own ingenuity to ferret out "hidden chimps" who live in private hands.

Frankie Trull, president of the National Foundation for Biomedical Research (NFBR), says primates in research are already enumerated under the Animal Welfare Act--the great apes are just not broken out. And although NFBR has no objections to the census, she warns that it will be difficult to quantify apes' well-being--it's an issue scientists haven't agreed on yet.

Related site
Great Ape Project

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