BOOKS: The Great Ape Project Census
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2004:
The Great Ape Project Census:
Recognition for the Uncounted
The Great Ape Project (917 S.W. Oak St., Suite 412, Portland, OR
268 pages, paperback. $14.95.
Nearly 200 years after hazy historical records indicate that
captive great apes may have first come to the U.S. for exhibition
with some of the first captive elephants, the Great Ape Project
Census represents the first known attempt to compile a comprehensive
national roster of all the bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas, and
orangutans now kept here.
The inventory includes 3,100 great apes in total, residing
in 37 states, including 1,280 chimpanzees held for biomedical
As the book lacks precise counts for other species and uses,
it is unfortunately necessary to hand-count to determine that there
are approximately 800 great apes in accredited zoos, among whom the
343 gorillas are the most numerous species; 169 chimps, 20
orangutans,, and three gorillas in non-accredited zoos; about 477
chimps, five orangutans, and one gorilla now in sanctuary care;
151 chimps and 19 orangutans kept by private owners, most of them in
the entertainment industry; and 13 chimpanzees, eight bonobos, and
two gorillas held in connection with communication studies.
Accompanying essays by 18 eminent great ape advocates review
the legal and moral status of apes in general, and the conservation
status of each particular species. Collectively, the contributors
argue that great apes should be granted legal “personhood,”
conveying with it many basic human rights. Dawn Prince-Hughes and
Lyn Miles point out that the distinctions presently drawn between
great apes and humanity have not always been recognized. Several of
the first scientists to write about great apes classified them as
different kinds of human, while just a century ago the Bronx Zoo and
St. Louis Zoo exhibited pygmies from Africa and Igorot aboriginal
people from the Philippines alongside apes.
The genetic likeness of great apes and humans is mentioned.
Current research indicates that male humans are more genetically
similar to male chimps, and female humans are more genetically
similar to female chimps, than humans and chimps are to the opposite
gender of their own species.
Bonobos may be even more closely related to humans than
chimps, but much of the genetic evidence may have been lost. As Gay
Reinartz notes, more than half of the 97 bonobos known to have been
captured from the wild are now recognized as the last remnants of
their family group, and only 33 of those bonobos have descendants.