PETA Remembers Dr. Steve Ross, Champion of Great Apes

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3 min read

Anyone who knew Dr. Steve Ross, director of the Lincoln Park Zoo’s Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes in Chicago, would surely describe him as a bold fighter for a better world for great apes. With his passing, the great ape advocacy community has lost one of its greatest champions. Describing all of Ross’ groundbreaking work in behalf of great apes is an impossible task, but in his memory—and in an effort to inspire others to advocate for animals, too—PETA has summarized a few highlights:

  • Ross oversaw the on-the-ground work of Lincoln Park Zoo (a facility accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, or AZA) to conserve wild populations of chimpanzees and gorillas in the Republic of Congo.
  • He was an early champion of the concept of true sanctuaries for chimpanzees retired from the biomedical industry, pet trade, and entertainment industry. He was an advisor to Chimp Haven, a sanctuary accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, and served on its board for more than 15 years. “[Ross’] impact on Chimp Haven, for chimpanzees throughout the world, and for countless individuals who work with great apes today cannot be overstated,” says a Chimp Haven Instagram post.
  • Ross personally secured the rescue of countless chimpanzees who were living in poor conditions as well as their placement to accredited sanctuaries and other facilities through Project ChimpCARE, which also completed and maintained an unprecedented census of captive great apes and serves as a resource for advocates, regulatory officials, scientists, and the public.
  • He worked with a coalition that helped end the captive chimpanzee “split-listing,” which denied Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections to captive chimpanzees. The end of the split-listing made it essentially impossible for the chimpanzee pet trade to continue legally and paved the way for PETA to negotiate the release of a young chimpanzee named Lisa Marie (below), who lived in a cell in the basement of a house in Chicago. It also allowed PETA to file ESA lawsuits on behalf of captive chimpanzees in the U.S., including against The Mobile Zoo and the Missouri Primate Foundation (Ross served as an expert witness for PETA in the latter case), and the two cases led to the retirement of nine additional chimpanzees to accredited sanctuaries.
Lisa Marie, a chimpanzee who was born at the Missouri Primate Foundation
Left: Chimpanzee Lisa Marie was born at the former breeding hellhole known as the Missouri Primate Foundation before she was sold to a private owner as a “pet” and forced to live in a basement in Chicago. | Right: Here’s Lisa Marie after PETA helped rescue and transfer her to a lush, spacious sanctuary in 2015.
  • Ross published many important works, including a study showing that using great apes on greeting cards as well as in films, on television, and in advertisements can lead the public to believe that the endangered species isn’t in need of the protection that’s so desperately called for.
  • He was one of the first AZA-affiliated experts to consult with PETA on captive wildlife welfare and gave critical advice that guided our work in behalf of captive chimpanzees.

What better way to celebrate Ross’ life than by advocating for the animals he spent his life sticking up for?

To honor Ross’ memory, we must actively oppose the exploitation of great apes, as he did so soundly for so many years. Here are three things you can do right now to honor him and all the great apes he spoke out for:

    1. Urge Hallmark Cards to stop profiting from clownish images of chimpanzees featured on several of its greeting cards.
    2. Be sure not to spend any of your vacation time at places where animals will still languish in misery long after you’re back home—never visit a roadside zoo!
  1. Share this post on Facebook and Twitter—encourage your family, friends, and other social media followers to speak up for great apes, too.
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