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When W.S. Gilbert said Darwinian man was, at best, "a monkey shaved," he probably never imagined someone taking it as a compliment. Jim and Alison Cronin would. "People say chimps are 99.6 percent human, but let's put it this other way, you're 99.6 percent chimp, now embrace it!" said Jim. As co-owners of the Monkey World Ape Rescue Centre in Dorset, England, Jim and Alison (both American, incidentally), have taken the concept one step further: they've instituted "family planning" to manage the population at their park. That's right; these chimps are on birth control. — Kate Sullivan
Nerve: At what point did you decide that birth control for the monkeys was necessary?
Jim Cronin: Well, chimpanzees have a monthly cycle, just like women do. They swell up; it's called an estrus —
Is that like water-weight gain?
Yeah, kind of. It's quite a large swelling on their back end. The males then know that they're sexually receptive. That plays a very big role in the group. There's competition between the males. Kind of like with people.
It's always the woman's fault.
It's always the guys fighting. They're very testosterone motivated and tend not to think very clearly.
What are monkeys' sex lives like?
Males will submit anytime. Females are sexually active for the three to seven days they're sexually receptive, and [they'll have sex] frequently throughout the day.
Have you seen positive results since you've started the birth-control program?
We do vasectomies for males. With the females, we first started with the Norplant. We thought, "That'll be a good idea, because we can implant all the females, not a problem. According to the literature, it's gonna last three, four years." That didn't work out very well.
Yes, I noticed some of your younger monkeys were the product of faulty birth control. How often does that happen? Is it consistent with human birth-control failure?
Well, in terms of the implants there were several problems. One, they tend to wear off very quickly. Chimps absorb the hormone at a much higher rate than human women do. Secondly, they groom each other, so they'd find this little rod or lump in their arm, or one of their friends would, and they'd squeeze it out.
|Jim (right) soothes the savage beast as she gets her first IUD.|
We didn't know that until babies started happening.
Do you use mostly human birth control?
Yes. They're licensed for veterinary use, but they're the same drugs. Chimp physiology is really close to ours.
What form of birth control works best on animals? I imagine condoms wouldn't be preferable.
I don't know if the boys would cooperate. Secondly, they're built rather differently. Chimpanzees have the largest penis and testicle size for body weight for any primate — including people — but they're quite thin, so it really wouldn't work.
You could probably teach a monkey to put on a condom, though, right?
Well, we could, but the condom would have to be the width of a pencil. To be honest, we're trying to encourage them to live a natural life. In a way, we're pretty happy with these accidents. We moved on from the implants. We brought in an OB-GYN, and he showed Alison and I how to do an IUD. We thought, "Problem solved." Two years later, once again, we had three more births.
Is it primarily the female monkeys that are given birth control? Are there any hormones that you shoot into the males? Come on.
No. The most effective birth control for chimps is one where the females don't come into estrus. If you can keep that swelling down, that relieves the tension in the group. It makes for a more peaceful life.
So you're encouraging a kind of abstinence-only program.
Well, yeah. And there's nothing for males. The day there is, we'll be all over it.
What do you use now?
The pill. It's 99 percent sure. We're really popular with the local chemist.
How much does that cost?
We use a full pack of pills a day, so we give pills to up to twenty-eight females. And then there's one female that gets an injection because she doesn't like to take her pill in the morning.
Do people ever protest your use of birth control on animals as unnatural?
No, because our mission is different. If a chimpanzee or an orangutan comes to Monkey World, they and their offspring will never leave. We'll
|Eddi, a Monkey World happy accident.|
look after all of them. We have a waiting list of thirty-five chimpanzees, so people know we're trying to make more space and more homes. Are people still objecting to birth control these days?
The Catholic Church still is, but I suppose monkeys can't be Catholic.
I don't think they'd do well as Catholics. They do all kinds of things that the Pope wouldn't be happy with. Alison worked at Dublin Zoo in Ireland, and that's a very Catholic country. They were told birth control [at the zoo] was okay, but not okay for people, because animals don't have souls. I'm struggling with that.
Do you think the animals have more sex when they're on birth control, like they know it's consequence-free?
Sex will still happen, but you don't have this seven-day mayhem. Can you imagine the havoc of the human race, if there were just seven days when the woman is absolutely receptive? Governments would collapse.
Are the animals ever adversely affected by the hormones, becoming more emotional or suffering water weight gain?
We've not seen any adverse effects, except one chimpanzee who got an overgrowth of her gums. It's very rare. We took her off the pill and the gums receded.
Is she on something else now?
She's injected with Depo-Provera. With us, it's about communicating with the primates you're working with, and she volunteers for the injections. She comes up once a month, holds her arm up and we give her the injection. She's quite happy with that. Chimps aren't wimps. They're not big babies about everything. n°
Monkey World works with fourteen foreign governments to confiscate primates from poachers and has rescued dozens of abused animals across the world. It has been featured on many television specials on the BBC, ITV and Discovery channels and receives 500,000 visitors a year.