Chimps Should Be Chimps

Since 2009, Lincoln Park Zoo’s Project ChimpCARE has led research and education initiatives to address important issues related to chimpanzee welfare. We’ve travelled around the country to meet with people who house chimpanzees in their backyards and basements. We’ve advocated policy reform to provide greater protection for chimpanzees living in the United States. And in one of the proudest moments in my career, we’ve played a part in the transfer of 18 chimpanzees to new, more appropriate homes at accredited zoos and legitimate sanctuaries.

But we remain interested in finding new ways to improve care for chimpanzees and raise awareness about the important animal-welfare and human-safety concerns that arise when chimpanzees are housed in inappropriate, suboptimal housing. Our own research demonstrates that much of the general public is unaware of these problems. Project ChimpCARE studies have also revealed how inappropriate media representations of chimpanzees (in movies and advertisements) lead people to underrate the species’ endangered status and misjudge their potential to be personal pets.

The bottom line is that many people are simply unaware of the truth about apes in entertainment. These animals are removed from their mothers and natural social groups to perform unnatural behaviors. They’re then often discarded when they become unmanageable at adolescence.

To raise awareness—and change attitudes—we needed to find a receptive audience. One that would be open to new ideas and not biased by the long cultural history of chimpanzee actors. One that would have great influence on others. One with unbridled energy.

Clearly we were talking about kids.

So Project ChimpCARE partnered with a local multimedia firm, Manning Productions, to produce a children’s iPad book titled “Chimps Should Be Chimps.” The book provides a richly interactive medium for kids and their parents to learn about chimpanzees and how their needs are better met in species-appropriate environments like those provided in AZA-accredited zoos.

The story focuses on an older chimpanzee talking to his young granddaughter about the difficult life he led before he was brought to the zoo. The narrative weaves back and forth between memories of his past life as an actor and his new and comfortable life living among other chimpanzees at the zoo. Ultimately the story also reminds kids to find fulfillment in simply being who they are.

In order to reach the widest possible audience, the book is available for free download via the App Store. We hope you’ll download it to your iPad and enjoy reading it with the children in your life.

Steve Ross

Steve Ross, Ph.D., is assistant director of Lincoln Park Zoo’s Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes. He founded Lincoln Park Zoo’s Project ChimpCARE with the ultimate goal of sustainable care for all chimpanzees in the United States.


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