Arun Rangsi was living link to IPPL origins
SUMMERVILLE, South Carolina––“The International Primate Protection League is devastated to report the loss of our first lab gibbon, Arun Rangsi, who was also my ‘heart gibbon,’” IPPL founder Shirley McGreal posted to social media.
Arun Rangsi was a living link to IPPL cofounder Ardith Eudey, Ph.D., a renowned primatologist who died in December 2015.
University of California bought smuggled gibbons
Eudey “was studying the behavior of free-living stumptail macaques in the Huay Kha Khaeng Sanctuary when I met her in 1972 at a nature club meeting in Bangkok,” McGreal remembered at her death. “Ardith was also very interested in gibbons, and learned that the University of California, where she was studying for her doctorate, had been importing smuggled white-handed gibbons via Canada to perform viral cancer experiments that caused them great suffering and death.
“We reported the lab to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and requested that it be prosecuted,” McGreal continued. “Ardith did an affidavit attesting to her convincing findings,” but no criminal case ensued.
In 1981, however, the University of California gibbon laboratory “lost its National Cancer Institute funding,” McGreal recalled. “Fifty five gibbons needed homes. Ardith got a tipoff that HL-98,” as Arun Rangsi was then called, “might be killed, as he was said to be ‘metabolically abnormal’ and ‘mentally retarded.’”
McGreal was skeptical.
“This baby gibbon was born at the lab,” McGreal explained, “and his mother rejected him. At six days old he was tattooed with the number HL-98 and raised with a swinging chicken wire and carpet scraps surrogate mother with a bottle sticking out,” from which he was to nurse.
“Taken from his mother at six days old––that’s guaranteed to drive a gibbon mad,” McGreal said. “Poor little guy! He had many illnesses during his first two years of life, including two bouts of pneumonia and two episodes of dysentery. He was underweight, sickly, and anti-social.
“But he survived. IPPL stepped in. Our Thai friend Katie Buri asked the monks at the Wat Arun temple in Bangkok to select a name for him and they chose ‘Arun Rangsi,’ which means ‘The Rising Sun of Dawn.’ Katie sent funds for his care. We notified the lab director of this offer and got a reply saying, ‘Rather than spend the money on this ridiculous adoption, I’ll spend it on his one-way ticket to you!’
An assist from the Animal Protection Institute
“We jumped for joy at the offer and started making plans,” McGreal said. “Our friends at the Animal Protection Institute kindly went to the lab to collect him. The next morning they put him on a flight to Atlanta,” the city with the nearest major airport to the IPPL headquarters in Summerville, South Carolina.
The Animal Protection Institute team included founder Belton Mouras, who later founded United Animal Nations, and longtime API staff member Vernon Weir. The Animal Protection Institute later became Born Free USA, while United Animal Nations became Red Rover.
“My friend Kit Woodcock offered to accompany me,” McGreal remembered. “We drove through driving rain 300 miles from Summerville to Atlanta. The plane had just landed when we reached the cargo area. I asked a staffer to call the pilot to ask if there was a gibbon on board and were told, ‘No, but we have a chimpanzee.’”
Despite that momentary setback, McGreal continued, “Soon we were on the road home. Kit sat in the back seat feeding the little gibbon grapes.”
Unfortunately, “When we got to Summerville,” McGreal recounted, “we found out that the poor little guy banged his head constantly.”
Asked for help, a local psychiatrist told McGreal that the head-banging reminded him of the behavior of autistic children.
“If you can get into his little world, maybe you can get him out of it,” the psychiatrist told her.
Shrink suggested McGreal should bang her head, too
“He suggested I bang my head along with him,” McGreal said. “What was so surprising is how Arun Rangsi came out of it.”
“He banged his head neurotically against anything hard and shiny: the oven glass, the window, the refrigerator door,” picked up Bo Petersen of the Charleston Post & Courier in August 2011, commemorating the 30th anniversary of Arun Rangsi’s arrival.
But when McGreal began banging her head right along with Arun Rangsi, “The banging slowed and then stopped,” wrote Petersen.
“Today, when McGreal approaches the wire mesh, the gibbon’s peering eyes seem to soften. He moves over and hangs next to her as she scratches his fur,” Petersen testified.
“He has a mate, Shanti,” Petersen added, “and they have produced offspring — a stunner for isolation-raised apes, who most often don’t. There was some concern at first that the lab-bred gibbon might kill a baby. That’s not what happened.”
“He put his nose to the first baby’s face,” named Ahimsa after the Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain principle of doing no harm to other living things, “and loved him to death,” McGreal told Petersen. “He has helped rear his offspring, carrying them along with him as few other sire apes would.”
McGreal had not intended to allow the gibbons in her care to breed. Arun Rangsi was vasectomized, but as often happens among nonhuman primates, the first vasectomy failed and had to be repeated.
Shanti came from the Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates (LEMSIP), a New York University facility formerly located in Sterling Forest, New York.
Founded in 1965 by former Polish resistance fighter Jan-Moor Jankowski (1924-2005), LEMSIP “used mainly chimpanzees and macaques, but also had a small group of gibbons,” McGreal recalled.
In 1982 the entire LEMSIP gibbon colony was retired to the IPPL sanctuary, the only U.S. sanctuary specializing in gibbons. As many as 34 gibbons at a time have lived at IPPL; the sanctuary currently cares for 30.
Observed Petersen, “Rooie ,” as Arun Rangsi was called for short, “is hyper; Shanti is laid back. But they have formed one of those yin-yang pairs. Unlike a lot of apes, they quietly share food rather than knock it from each other. When Shanti gives an unsettled call, Rooie comes over and puts his arm around her. His head-banging twitch returns from time to time when he gets stressed, but it’s a shadow movement of what it was.”
Accepting the LEMSIP gibbons was a prelude to a landmark legal case that originated the next year, when Moor-Jankowski as founding editor of the International Journal of Primatology published a letter-to-the-editor from McGreal criticizing the Austrian pharmaceutical firm Immuno AG for planning to capture wild chimpanzees.
Immuno AG responded by suing both McGreal and Moor-Jankowski for libel.
McGreal’s home insurer settled the case against her out of court, against her opposition, but Moor-Jankowski spent $2 million of his own money to win rulings from the New York State Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court which together won greater protection for authors and publishers of letters to the editors of publications.
Arun Rangsi picked up other nicknames: McGreal sometimes called him “Ru-in,” while IPPL sanctuary worker Donetta Pacitti called him “Bug.”
Arun Rangsi was briefly reunited with an old friend, Rosie, in 2010.
“Our relationship with Rosie began with a fan on IPPL’s Facebook page,” McGreal remembered. “This fan was a zoo-keeper who had learned about an elderly, solitary female gibbon being held off-exhibit at the Turtle Back Zoo in New Jersey.”
A year earlier, McGreal narrated, “The zoo tried to pair her with a younger male, but the introduction did not work out, and some of the tips of her fingers were bitten off in the process. In addition, Rosie had recently been diagnosed with fluid in the abdomen, which could indicate liver and kidney problems. She seemed ready to move on.”
One brief month
The Turtle Back Zoo agreed to retire Rosie to IPPL.
“Two of her keepers drove her down to South Carolina,” McGreal said, “and stayed a couple of days to help her settle in. They brought her favorite blanket, toys, and a mirror. As soon as we let her into her new night quarters, she started singing. A good sign!
“Of course we were interested in learning as much about Rosie’s history as possible,” McGreal continued. “We checked with Jay Petersen, the Gibbon Species Survival Plan coordinator, and he told us that she could actually be traced back to the Comparative Oncology Laboratory at the University of California at Davis in the 1970s,” the same facility from which Arun Rangsi came.
“We enjoyed the company of Rosie for one brief month,” McGreal remembered, “while she stayed with us for end-of-life care. We were sad to say good-bye, but at least her last days were filled with peace and comfort.”
“We will miss this sweet little ape”
Wrote McGreal in her remembrance of Arun Rangsi, “Two weeks ago, Arun Rangsi suddenly fell ill and refused to eat or drink. We did a ton of tests, including an ultrasound, but nothing helped. We believe it was a pancreas problem. We put him to sleep on the afternoon of December 19, 2018. He was 39 years old.
“We will miss this sweet little ape and so will Shanti. Will she bond with another gibbon? That remains to be seen. They lived happily together for over three decades,” McGreal recalled.
“We have really high observation towers for the gibbons,” McGreal said, “and he loved to sit at the highest point and look out. He could see the deer in the woods. He was just a joy all these years.”