The Kendall Project was inspired by a truly remarkable chimpanzee named Kendall. Here is Kendall's story.
Kendall chimp was born on May 31, 1999 at a facility that breeds chimps to be used in entertainment, primarily in the private party setting. As a infant he was hand-raised by people to be later used in the entertainment industry. He was then sold to Birds and Animals Unlimited, an organization that trains a variety of animals, including chimpanzees, for use in movies, television, and live animal shows. Kendall became famous at the ripe old age of four; some may remember him as the chimp that selected the winning number for Pepsi's Billion Dollar Sweepstakes. As a young chimp, he learned skills such as waving and smiling, swinging on a swing, and bowing. He even appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show.
When Kendall was about seven, his trainers noticed that he was beginning to challenge them when they took him out to do his shows. They realized that if he was beginning to challenge those he knew best, there was increased risk to audience members. Chimps are, pound for pound, about seven times stronger than a person. So, a 60 pound chimp could potentially seriously injure an innocent spectator.
Kendall was retired from shows. His trainers tried to spend as much time with him as they could, but with many other animals under their care and a busy show schedule, Kendall's care began to fall by the wayside. He was spending his days in a small holding area with limited stimulation, bedding, and of course, no other chimpanzees.
In 2006, Kendall's situation came to the attention of members of the Chimpanzee Species Survival Plan, a conservation and science program of the Assocation of Zoos and Aquariums that promotes the well being of captive chimpanzees through advancements in care, research, and education. They arranged to place Kendall at the North Carolina Zoo (an AZA accredited institution), with the hope that he could be integrated into a group with 13 other chimps.
Since Kendall arrived at the North Carolina Zoo in 2007, he has made great strides in learning natural chimp behavior. However, he still has a long, hard road ahead of him if he is ever to be fully integrated into the resident chimp group. Chimpanzees are extremely territorial, and live in a society where it is only acceptable for females (and their young offspring) to move in between troops, namely to mate. When male chimps reach a certain age (about 6 or 7, as their secondary sexual characteristics begin to develop), they become subject to severe aggression, sometimes resulting in death, if they attempt to move into the territory of another troop's range. Kendall is currently twelve years old. And although he is no longer a newcomer, he still has not fully grasped how to deal with aggression, of which he is often the target due to his low-ranking status. He has yet to master social skills that most chimps learn when they are very little, such as submissive and reconciliative behaviors, without which he has no hope of being able to live safely with other individuals.
As far as chimps in entertainment go, Kendall came from a decent situation with caretakers who loved him and treated him as best as they were able. He also did have a decent diet and regular visits with a veterinarian. His owners were willing to release him to an AZA accredited zoo that could meet his species-specific needs. For the most part, he is a very lucky guy. Many other chimps in show business aren't so lucky. They may live in horrible living conditions such as small cages and can be "trained" using shock collars, as they are so strong and unpredictable. The often receive a poor diet, as well as little or no medical care. And, like Kendall, even if they are rescued and put in better situations, they have spent most of their lives living as a human and thus have no idea how to live around other chimps.
At the Kendall Project, we support organizations whose primary goal is to stop the use of chimps and other primates in the entertainment industry. We are NOT an anti-captivity group. We believe that organizations such as AZA accredited zoos, the Chimpanzee Species Survival Plan, and many great ape sanctuaries have made great strides in educating the public on chimpanzee natural history and conservation, and the animals in their care serve as "ambassadors" for their wild counterparts, thus promoting an appreciation for wildlife and the desire to conserve wild chimp natural habitat. Please support your local AZA Zoos and organizations that promote conservation and welfare of both captive and wild apes and monkeys.