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In response to criticism from PETA about featuring chimpanzees on some of its greeting cards, American Greetings Corp. said it is pulling those cards and purging stock images from its files that feature a popular chimpanzee named "Connor."
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), the animal rights advocacy group based in Norfolk, Virginia, asked American Greetings to stop selling cards featuring chimpanzees dressed in costumes or as clownish creatures, saying that doing so "seriously hinders conservation efforts and may also increase the demand for these dangerous animals as 'pets,'" despite the fact that they are endangered.
Noelle is a chimpanzee at the PRC.
PETA also asked the company to financially help rescue and pay for the lifetime costs of caring for Connor, an adult chimpanzee at the Missouri Primate Foundation that PETA says was widely used as a photo subject when he was a juvenile chimpanzee. "At 21 years old, he still sucks his thumb and obsessively grooms himself -- a sign of psychological distress," PETA said.
American Greetings' spokeswoman Patrice Sadd said only 78 of its 20,000 cards contain images of chimpanzees, but that the company could not pull them off of retailers' shelves because of logistical and 'carbon footprint' problems. Instead, "What we plan to do is destroy the card inventory featuring Connor that we have in our distribution centers to ensure the cards are not shipped to any retailers. We also will retire all images of Connor from our art files, and they will not be used again."
American Greetings said it reassured PETA that it has not photographed chimpanzees since 2005, and has only used stock images of exotic animals on its cards since then. The company has told its creative teams that it will only use stock photos from reputable and trusted sources in future card designs. "We do bring in dogs and cats from time to time, and many associate's pets are featured on cards," Sadd said. "We also work with several local shelters and reputable breeders. A lot of homeless pets have been adopted by our associates, or family members, just by bringing them in from local shelters, so that's a win-win!"
PETA primatologist Julia Gallucci said they are pleased that American Greetings is pulling its chimpanzee cards and images, but believe the company could still do more. Even if the card company isn't taking photos of chimpanzees, "they've been profiting off of Connor's image for the past 10 years, and it's very expensive to care for adult chimpanzees. I know of at least 12 American Greetings cards that specifically feature Connor," she said. "Most of the [chimpanzee] cards now sold in stores right now feature Connor.
"While American Greetings has profited from Connor's image, he has languished in distress in a squalid enclosure," said Brittany Peet, PETA Foundation director of captive animal law enforcement, in a written statement. "PETA is asking the company to have a heart and extend the holiday spirit of giving to Connor by funding his lifetime care at an accredited sanctuary."
PETA -- which insists that "animals are not ours to use for entertainment" -- has said it plans to sue the MPF under the Endangered Species Act, arguing that keeping chimpanzees in filthy enclosures, denying them adequate space in which to climb and roam, and keeping highly social primates in solitary confinement all violate the law.
Gallucci said PETA has also reached out to privately-held Hallmark Cards Inc., based in Kansas City, Missouri, over the same issue, but has never received a response. Hallmark told Fortune magazine in September that it has not shot any new chimpanzee photos in nearly a decade and that chimps appear in less than 1 percent of its cards. Gallucci said: "Our rebuttal to that is that first, it doesn't matter when the cards were made, they are sending a harmful message regardless. And second, 1 percent is actually a large number of cards when you consider that Hallmark greeting cards are sold in more than 40,000 stores nationwide."
"A short walk through the greeting card aisle in any drugstore or grocery store reveals how prevalent these images are," she said. "People see these images everyday thanks to Hallmark and American Greetings."