[Ed. Note: Past article - Igor]
Pictures from International Primate Protection League (IPPL) (below)
By Jim Tatum, JournalScene.com
July 5, 2012
From more than two decades of lonely, abusive existence to a life of peace, contentment and worldwide popularity is a long, rough road.
Igor, the oldest and most popular Gibbon in residence at the International Primate Protection League’s sanctuary in Summerville, recently celebrated a happy milestone – his 25th anniversary of coming to the sanctuary.
But Igor, the oldest and most popular Gibbon in residence at the International Primate Protection League (IPPL) sanctuary in Summerville has successfully made the journey -- with a little help from a lot of friends.
IPPL recently celebrated a happy milestone in Igor’s life: his 25th anniversary of coming to the sanctuary. To look at Igor, one would not be able to guess either his age or the circumstances of his former life. He’s gentle but a little guarded, meticulous and deliberate in his movements, but still possessed of the poetic grace with which gibbons are so gifted.
Yet a look into those liquid brown eyes belies a peace hard fought and well earned from sheer survival of living in hell for more than two decades.
Happily, it’s safe to say that these days Igor enjoys a superstar status few ever hope to achieve.
“We don’t know exactly how old he is; he was wild caught so there are no records,” Dr. Shirley McGreal, Executive Director and Founder of IPPL said of the celebrated Old Man of the Sanctuary. “He spent twenty one years in a laboratory and several years before that with a drug company – so we’re pretty sure he’s well up into his fifties, which is extraordinary for Gibbons.”
In fact, Igor and several other older IPPL Gibbons – there are some 33 living there, many of which are over 40 and at least three over 50 -- have sparked new conversations in the primate world regarding primate lifespans, especially for gibbons. Certainly, IPPL’s sanctuary is a living testament to the benefits of a stress free life, IPPL staffers note -- and no story illuminates this quite as poignantly as Igor’s, McGreal and her staff maintain.
Igor was captured, probably from the rainforests of Thailand and sold to a drug company. He would spend five years in that company’s experimental laboratories before being sold to a laboratory that was part of New York University, where he would spend another 21 miserable years.
The intense stress of those experiences – the horror of being captured after poachers shot his mother and then being forced to live in a cage covered by black Plexiglas in a windowless trailer, enduring scientific experiments – took its toll. Igor developed a terrible neurotic self-mutilation behavior – he would bite his own arms savagely every time he saw another gibbon. Repeated episodes over the years seriously damaged some of the muscle and soft tissue in his arms so that even today, years after the scars healed and the behaviors ceased, his mobility is not totally what it should be, McGreal said.
Nevertheless, Igor does get around pretty well and most important, he is healthy and happy.
“When we first brought him here, we knew he had that self-mutilation behavior, so we placed him in an enclosure out of sight – but not out of earshot -- from the others,” McGreal said. “He seemed to do well being able to hear the others, and he seemed to enjoy watching the odd episode of Sesame Street on television or watching local wildlife come up to his area – birds and squirrels and such.”
Then one day, a female gibbon named Courtney was born at the sanctuary. McGreal and her staff took the baby to Igor’s enclosure and not only did he respond positively, he didn’t bite himself at all. He seemed happy to watch Courtney grow up; she would visit for several years until she got too big and strong to be taken around the compound.
Later, IPPL built a living space for another bachelor gibbon, Michael, within clear view of Igor’s territory. Igor had no problems with visual interactions with Michael -- and now is not bothered by Gibby, another gibbon who moved into the space after Michael was matched with a female and was moved into her enclosure.
“Although Igor loves human beings, we still don’t bring any gibbons up close – we don’t know how Igor would react to that and don’t want to take a chance -- but Igor seemed to like visiting from a distance with Michael and now Gibby,” McGreal said. “They sing to each other – Igor seems to enjoy communicating with the others – and he has not bitten himself since he came here, not once.”
Igor has become the most popular of the IPPL adoptive gibbons – adopted by more fans around the world than any of the others, McGreal said.
At the recent IPPL international summit meeting held in APRIL, several of the attendees insisted on coming out to meet Igor while they were there. As recently as last week, a woman from Australia, one of many who have adopted Igor – sent a package of special fruit and nut treats to help celebrate Igor’s 25th anniversary.
“It’s his whole story - - it seems to resonate so deeply with so many people,” McGreal said. “People are touched by the fact that he continues to live on despite all that he suffered – and we’re so happy he just goes on and on.”
“He’s such a gentle soul, really special,” she said.
Pictures from International Primate Protection League (IPPL):
Sadly, Igor had developed a tragic, neurotic habit as a result of his years in labs: whenever he caught sight of another gibbon, he would savagely bite his own arms. Some of these bouts resulted in life-threatening blood loss. He was forced to live in a windowless trailer behind a screen of black Plexiglas.
These days, Igor likes to sing to his neighor, Gibby
Igor has such wise and gentle eyes.