Filed under: Chimps in entertainment
July 23, 2007.
by Rick Bogle
Apollo died when he was 7 years old, one year ago today. Like many captive
chimps, he had a tumultuous life. He was born at the infamous and
now-defunct Coulston Foundation, where he was probably taken from his mother
within hours of birth, only to be slapped in with bunches of babies and
raised with limited maternal influence. The babies would line up in a row
and hug each other, front to back, rocking. Around 18 months, Apollo was
used as a bartering chip – he’d be given to a Hollywood chimpanzee trainer
in exchange for a rosy documentary about his not-so-rosy birthplace. It was
the first of many exchanges in which Apollo would play an unwitting role. If
he hadn’t been a part of that exchange, he’d probably have been used for
invasive experiments. So his new trainer was “saving” him from research. But
even in salvation, he couldn’t survive.
I first met Apollo when I was working undercover. At first sight, I knew I’d
fall in love with him. He was the trouble-maker of the group, and those boys
are always my favorites. Sweet and smart, but misunderstood and mistreated.
My kind of guy. I wanted to get to know him better but since he was marked
as the bad boy, I wasn’t always allowed to interact with him. I remember one
special day when I was sitting on the lawn grooming him. He head-bobbed at
me. It’s a fun, happy signal: Play with me! Before I could stop myself I
accepted by head bobbing back. But the trainer grabbed me. “Don’t do that!
It means he’s about to attack!” He had no idea what it meant.
Apollo was so curious and mischievous. He always wanted to look up peoples’
shirts – especially women’s shirts. He wanted to play, he wanted to wrestle.
He was smart. He bit people. Of course he did. He was a juvenile male
chimpanzee. He had all the natural, normal impulses. He tested his limits
constantly. As a result, he received the most brutal beatings I saw when I
was undercover. I saw him punched, kicked, beaten, and more. Big, grown men
tried to assert their dominance over him constantly. Once, when he bit a
trainer, he suffered greatly. Though I didn’t see the beating, I saw his
face afterwards. It was so swollen. He looked at me without his usual
glimmer. We were alone so I said out loud – “Are you okay?” There was a
heartbreaking acceptance in his puffy eyes. That was his life and he knew
it. He was only 4 years old at the time.
Early on, he was used on TV and in movies, in advertisements and at
celebrity parties. But his mischief was hard to control, so his “jobs”
declined over the years. At the end of his short life, he was living in a
cage at a compound out in the desert. I’m told he was alone in that cage. He
should never have been there. His mom shouldn’t have been used as a breeding
machine. He shouldn’t have been born into biomedical research. He shouldn’t
have been tossed off to Hollywood. He shouldn’t have been forced to “smile”
on cue so we could laugh at him. He shouldn’t have experienced what he did.
I was devastated when I learned that he died suddenly, still under his
trainer’s care. I hadn’t helped him. I hadn’t made a difference for him. A
few months later, his compatriots at the compound were rescued and retired
to sanctuaries. He should have gone with them – a small “thank you” after so
many years of suffering. I couldn’t help him.
There are many more Apollos out there. In labs, in training compounds, in
back yards. I tell his story today because we must help them.
On this day, remember Apollo.