NEW ORLEANS – A painting by a 37-year-old primate who applies color with his tongue instead of a brush has been deemed the finest chimpanzee art in the land.
Brent, a retired laboratory animal, was the top vote-getter in an online chimp art contest organized by the Humane Society of the United States, which announced the results Thursday.
He won $10,000 for the Chimp Haven sanctuary in northwest Louisiana.
A Chimp Haven spokeswoman said Brent was unavailable for comment Thursday. “I think he’s asleep,” Ashley Gordon said.
But as the society said on its website, “The votes are in, so let the pant hooting begin!” — pant hooting being the characteristic call of an excited chimp.
Five other sanctuaries around the country competed, using paintings created during “enrichment sessions,” which can include any of a wide variety of activities and playthings.
Chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall chose her favorite from photographs she was sent. That painting, by Cheetah, a male at Save the Chimps in Florida., won $5,000 as Goodall’s choice and another $5,000 for winning second place in online voting, Humane Society spokeswoman Nicole Ianni said.
Ripley from the Center for Great Apes in Florida, won third place and $2,500.
More than 27,000 people voted, Ianni said in a news release. The organization is not giving vote totals “to keep the focus on the positive work of the sanctuaries and not necessarily the ‘winner,'” she said in an email. The sanctuaries care for chimpanzees retired from research, entertainment and the pet trade. Chimp Haven is the national sanctuary for those retired from federal research.
A profile of Brent on the Humane Society’s website says he has lived at Chimp Haven since 2006, is protective of an even older chimp at the sanctuary and “loves to laugh and play.” It continues, “Brent paints only with his tongue. His unique approach and style, while a little unorthodox, results in beautiful pieces of art.”
Cathy Willis Spraetz, Chimp Haven’s president and CEO, said she chose a painting by Brent partly because of that unusual method. She said she later held a canvas up to the mesh of his indoor cage so she could watch him at work.
Some other chimps use brushes or point to the colors they want on the canvas, but Brent comes up to smush pre-applied blobs of child-safe tempera paints with his tongue, she said.
“If we handed the canvas to them where it was on the inside, they might not want to hand it back,” she said. “They might throw it around and step on it.”