For those of us old enough to remember the Tarzan movies, Cheeta is the chimp that made everybody want one of their own. The four foot, hundred and fifty pound primate was bursting with personality and charm. Animal trainer Tony Gentry found Cheeta on an animal scouting trip to Africa in the 1930s.
Cheeta went on to star in twelve Tarzan films. He retired from films 1967 at the age of thirty five. Now, chimpanzees in the wild can live forty to forty-five years if they can avoid poachers, and perhaps into their mid fifties in captivity. Well, The Guinness Book of World Records lists Cheeta as the Worlds Oldest Chimp today, at the amazing age of 71. –
Overjoyed customer Elayne Boosler shows one of the paintings Cheeta made for her.
People have a different consciousness about animals and animal welfare today, and mercifully, more and more people are turning their backs on circuses that exploit animals, and performing animals in general. But this was a different era, and what’s done is done. Often, when performing chimpanzees were retired, they were sold into biomedical research.
Tony Gentry loved Cheeta so much, his will stated when he himself died, he wanted Cheeta put to sleep also so he would never suffer at the hands of others. Enter Tony’s nephew, Dan Westfall. Dan promised to take good care of Cheeta, and when his uncle died about ten years ago, Cheeta went to live with Dan. Today, Dan’s “ Cheeta Primate Foundation ” in Palm Springs, California, is home to Cheeta and many other retired chimps, orangutans, and other unwanted or abused showbiz primates. Abe Karajerjian, a biological anthropologist who along with Dan runs the foundation and cares for the animals, says Cheeta and his companions are in the best of health, receive the best of care, and are kept busy and happy in an appropriate social structure.
Says Abe, “They made tons of people happy, they had to endure a lot to make people happy, and we want to give back to them, provide them with friends. We just love them.” Of course, some showbiz habits are hard to break. Cheetah likes to play the piano, watch TV, go for rides in the car, take walks, look at pictures in magazines, and most importantly, paint. Abe says, “At the sanctuary the apes are provided with a variety of activities to stimulate their intellect and curiosity. Painting allows them to mimic their innate behavior of inventing and using tools.
Dan says that Cheeta has developed a particular talent as an abstract artist and has trademarked Cheeta’s creations as ” Ape-Stract Art “. Cheeta uses a paintbrush and bright colors for his creations, which are full of sweeps and swirls, yet balanced and you might even say well thought out!
Says Elayne Boosler , “I read an article about Cheeta and his paintings online. I had
to have one. It came a week later. I immediately bought another, and it was different. Different colors and mood. I was captivated.
My neighbor, a graphic artist, saw the paintings and had to have one. I surprised her for her birthday and she was ecstatic. It’s
in a gorgeous frame in her living room and everyone comments on it.
They do not believe it was painted by a chimp, and my neighbor always has to take the picture down and show them the Certificate of Authenticity on the back. I became friendly with Dan and Abe and so admire what they are valiantly doing on a shoestring budget. They are just two wonderful people.
Cheetah passed away recently, but the art lives on.