From circus to sanctuary, activist fights for chimps' rights

Tue Aug 10, 2010 4:55am EDT
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By Alice Pereira

RIO DE JANEIRO Aug 10 (Reuters Life) - A Brazilian biologist is on a mission to rehabilitate circus chimpanzees, fighting in the courts to get the animals rights and freed to be treated for the trauma inflicted during lives as performers.

Microbiologist Pedro Ynterian's fascination with chimpanzees dates back to 1999 when he saved a baby chimpanzee from a circus.

As baby chimp Guga grew bigger, Ynterian realized raising him in an apartment was impractical so he took Guga to his family's farm in Sorocaba, some 60 miles west of Sao Paulo.

Now 11 years on, the Cuba-born Brazilian has become the president of the Great Ape Project (GAP) International and has transformed his 25 acre (10.1 hectare) family farm into a sanctuary home to 50 chimps rescued from circuses and zoos.

The chimps arrive scarred. Some were forced to drink alcohol to entertain humans, some have had their teeth smashed, and others were even blinded to keep them calm.

"Sometimes I make a joke saying that this place is not a sanctuary but a mental hospital because I'm dealing with mad creatures, creatures who were traumatized in zoos following years of public exposure," Ynterian told Reuters Television.

"(But) it is necessary to have a combination of a sanctuary to receive (the apes) along with political and educational work through the media so that society becomes aware that we cannot continue to harm these animals."

The Great Ape Project was founded in 1994 in the United States as an international organization to fight for the rights of non-human great apes, such as chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans such as freedom from torture and slavery.   Continued...