German chimp Robby to stay in circus after lengthy legal battle

Robby the chimpanzee has spent more than 40 years with a German circus troupe. Despite calls for him to live out the rest of his days among fellow apes, a German court has decided he should stay where he is.

A German court on Thursday ruled that a 47-year-old circus chimpanzee called Robby should spend the rest of his days among people, rather than with other apes.

Zoo-born Robby has lived with circus owner Klaus Köhler and his family since the age of three, and the question of whether he would be better off at an ape rehabilitation facility has been the subject of a lengthy legal battle. 

The decision in the Higher Administrative Court in Lüneburg means he will stay put.

"I'm glad that I can keep my child," the circus boss told reporters after the ruling was handed down.

Global Ideas | 16.04.2015

Read moreDo animals belong in the circus ring?

Like a red flag to a bull

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Don't step right up, ladies and gentlemen …

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As cunning as a fox

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A day at the zoo

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Don't act like a chimp!

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Off to the races

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Troubled ape

The lawsuit stemmed from a 2015 order by local authorities in Celle. The northern city argued that Robby should be sent to a rescue center specializing in re-socializing apes because he suffered serious behavioral problems as a result of living with people. That order was confirmed by the Lüneburg Administrative Court in April last year. 

The judges presiding over Thursday's decision acknowledged that although Robby undoubtedly suffered serious behavioral disruptions, that did not mean he should be handed over to a facility.

Read moreAnimal entertainment: Tradition or cruel sport?

Lüneburg Prozess Zirkus Schimpanse Robby

Robby the chimpanzee has lived with circus boss Klaus Köhler for more than 40 years

Lesser of two evils

The court said local authorities in Celle had failed to take into account the advanced age of the animal and the dangers associated with undergoing what could potentially be years of rehabilitation. The judges also pointed out that Robby would only be exposed to a few animals at a re-socializing facility — also a less than ideal situation. 

The court heard testimony from veterinarian Pierre Grothmann, who said the male ape was lacking social skills and could not live without typical behaviors, including sexual interactions with other chimps. But Köhler argued taking Robby out of his current environment would be more damaging.

"Robby knows no apes, only humans — we are the conspecifics for him," Köhler said, adding that his family spent several hours a day with the chimp.

Animal rights groups voiced disappointment over the verdict. Activists from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) protested outside the courthouse, while welfare organization Four Paws appealed to the German government to ban wild animals from circuses. Robby is considered to be one of the last great circus apes in Germany.

Read moreRetire the elephants, animal rights groups demand

Nature and Environment

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Nature and Environment

Call by name

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Fishing

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Long-term memory

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Keeping farm animals

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Self-awareness

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Nature and Environment

Social life

Two orca populations near Canada's west coast are apparently maintaining a 700,000-year-old culture. The so-called "Residents" and "Transients" share the same habitat temporarily. However, they do not mate and rely on different food. Transients traditionally eat mammals; the Residents eat fish. Surprisingly they do not deviate from their habits even in times of need.

nm/aw (dpa, AFP)

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