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Achille the chimp held prisoner by a circus

During an inspection of Amar Circus in Mulhouse last winter (1999), One Voice’s circus campaign director Franck Schrafstetter noticed Achille, a 36-year-old chimpanzee locked in a cage measuring just 3 square metres! Achille had been bought from a zoo by the grandfather of the circus’s current owner, Mr. Falck, thirty years previously. For the past fifteen years Achille had never been let out of his cage because of his allegedly aggressive behaviour.

The circus, which did not possess the necessary authorisations for Achille, was in breach of article 213-18 of the French rural code which stipulates that non-performing animals cannot be held. And yet no action had been taken to free Achille from the tiny prison in which he had been left to languish for the past fifteen years.
Faced with the animal’s plight, One Voice began its battle to free Achille as quickly as possible.

Finding a new home for Achille

Time was of the essence, as 36 is an advanced age for a chimpanzee that has lived in such disgraceful conditions of captivity.

One Voice began by contacting sanctuaries in Europe and the United States, but to no avail given the huge numbers of chimpanzees that are already waiting to be saved. Our only hope was the Ape Foundation in the Netherlands, where a dedicated team offers excellent living conditions for primates. Indeed, One Voice and the Ape Foundation are already working together to save other apes (an operation still in progress). Unfortunately, the Foundation had a waiting list of 45 other chimpanzees, each living in deplorable conditions in Europe.

Not to be beaten, each week for the next six months I wrote to or telephoned Jan-Willem who handles admissions to the sanctuary to remind him of Achille’s plight. I begged him not to forget the chimp. Throughout this period Jan-Willem did his best to find a new home for Achille in the United States until finally he agreed to give him a place at the Ape Foundation.

Jan-Willem, his team and the Foundation’s director David have been saving apes for many years now. They had been given full details of the conditions in which Achille was being forced to live and yet, following his release, admitted they had never seen an ape in such a terrible situation. They were both delighted and disgusted.

Rescuing Achille

On May 23rd 2000 Franck travelled to Aubusson for One Voice, accompanied by journalists and representatives of the Ape Foundation in the Netherlands.

The situation rapidly deteriorated, with Mr. Falck threatening to shoot Achille dead if any photos or videos were taken inside the circus. This explains why there are no recordings of Achille’s rescue, supposedly with the circus’s “full cooperation”, and little of Achille in his cage as One Voice had been given a similar “welcome” during its previous visit.

To help defuse an already tense situation, Mrs. Falck had sent her father to the hairdresser’s, thereby ensuring he would not be present when Achille was finally rescued. However, the Falck family clearly feared he would return at any moment. They pressed One Voice to sign a document accepting full liability in the event of an accident involving Achille, who needed four darts before finally falling asleep. At last Achille was driven away while the Falck family, apparently very fond of their prisoner, hurled insults.

The next problem that One Voice had to overcome was convincing the authorities that Achille’s rescue was entirely legal and agreed to by the Falck family. One thing was sure: we would never have returned Achille to the sordid circus cage from which no one had sought to rescue him in 36 years.

Franck took advantage of this meeting to remind the authorities of the genuine need for circuses to move into a new era in which performing animals would no longer be part of the show, remarks that unfortunately served only to make the situation even more tense.

The latest news

Achille is well and, according to the Ape Foundation, shows no signs of aggressiveness whatsoever. Despite his sad life he is reacting perfectly to human contact.

Having expressed his disgust at Achille’s sad past, Jan-Willem, to whom we send our heartfelt thanks, emphasised how pleased he was with the chimp today. Achille is not the killer which the Falck family claimed he was. On the contrary, he is a sociable animal capable of showing great affection.

This is just one example of the terrible situations One Voice encounters day after day. Our task is not an easy one, using limited resources to combat the suffering that human cruelty and cowardice impose on animals. And yet victories such as this, when through coordinated action and determination our teams manage to restore dignity and a decent life to a living being, are the best possible reward. Thank you to everyone whose moral support and donations make our work possible. And thank you for helping us continue our action in favour of animal welfare, because there are many more Achilles waiting to be saved by One Voice.

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