From George Takai
The Life and Times of Oliver, A Chimpanzee
Young Oliver sometimes moved fully upright, instead of hunching forward on shoulders and arms as most chimpanzees do. Yet like many others in the 1960s, Oliver was stolen as a youngster from a family of chimpanzees, and would never again go home.
It was that one quirk that set the peculiar fate that would befall Oliver. It was that walk that caught the eyes of entertainers who saw the opportunity to market the hapless soul as The Missing Link between humans and rest of the animal world. So Oliver became an international spectacle: the Humanzee. A string of promoters, including New York lawyer Michael Miller, promoted Oliver as a possible chimpanzee-human hybrid. Seen on The Ed Sullivan Show and Japan’s Nippon television, Oliver was touted as a sherry-sipping, stogie-puffing, coffee-loving, jet-setting star who was sexually attracted to humans. Few ever mentioned that Oliver once lived free in the Congo. Or that the promoters tethered and led Oliver by a chain.
After the entertainment world lost interest, Oliver was sold, one last time, to the research broker Buckshire Corporation of Pennsylvania.
In 1998, after suffering several strokes, muscles atrophied from many long years in a lab cage, and failing eyesight, Oliver was released to Primarily Primates. Toothless and arthritic, Oliver still managed to leave the lab cage in legendary fashion, says Tello—by walking upright. “I still remember the day,” Tello says, and the lab cage “that was so small any human would have gone insane living in it.”
At Primarily Primates, Oliver met Raisin. Filmmaker Andy Cockrum hand-made two hammocks for the pair, and installed one of them near the ground, to allow Oliver to find it. Sarah, long owned by a language-research lab, also got to share a space with Oliver; and, sensing the older ape’s sight was impaired, brought grapes over to Oliver, who accepted them and ate them. Oliver was a gentle soul who brought out the kindness in other chimpanzees.
With Oliver’s death came a resurgence of interest in this chimpanzee’s biological personality. But Primarily Primates has always denied media outlets’ and primate experts’ requests to film or take samples from Oliver, and that wasn’t about to change now. The ape’s remains were similarly kept off-limit to scientific tourists.
On the 7th day of June 2012, we cremated and scattered Oliver’s ashes. Oliver is home now, forever free. For the last part of his life, he got to live in a safe haven: a non-exploitive, non-commercial world where he was surrounded by people who love him and in companionship with others of his kind.
Oliver’s habitat, which is now empty, is being used to test St Augustine sod, which is supposed to withstand high heat and direct sun. That’s what we’re using in the terraces we’ll be adding to the cement bottomed enclosures we’re eventually phasing out. Thomas, Shushu and Sudio, who now live next door, will be brought into Oliver’s former habitat—once we get new climbing structures built. (Oliver, because of his advanced age, near blindness and the dangers that climbing structures posed, lived without high-reaching climbing structures.)
At what point, do you say enough is enough?
At what point do you decide that the pain and suffering directed towards defenseless animals, is more than you can take? When do you report that neighbor that leaves their dog chained up in the backyard in the blazing sun with no shelter and no food or water? When do you say that the horse the neighbors have tied to the tree, the horse that is so emaciated that you can actually count every rib and vertebrae in its spine, deserves better?
When do you reach the point where your lifestyle and the food choices you make contribute to too much needless pain, suffering and the senseless slaughter of farm animals?
And finally, when do you say that you can never care too much for every living being? Human and not. When do you finally tell yourself, (and truly believe it), that every one of the beings we come in contact with every day, those who share our planet, our lives, our love, and our homes, deserves a life free from pain? Free to love. Free to breathe clean air. Free to have good food, and clean water. Medicine when they are sick?
At what point have you cried enough? When do you finally shout, “Enough is enough?” Loud enough for the whole world to hear?
Are you there yet?