“The Banana Derby has always been a popular feature within the Fair Industry,” says the front page of the Banana Derby website. “You can’t go wrong spicing up your Fair or Festival with the Banana Derby. America’s Favorite Monkey Jockeys are always Media and Sponsor Friendly, and the Unique nature of the Banana Derby always provides Publicity!”
It’s true that these races, in which capuchin monkeys dressed as jockeys ride atop dogs, are indeed popular. Elephants in circuses and killer whales in theme parks used to be popular, too. But their acceptance by the public has declined as people have become aware of the harm done to these performing animals. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey announced earlier this year it will stop using elephants in its shows by 2018. Attendance at SeaWorld theme parks has plummeted since the disturbing documentary “Blackfish” was released in 2013.
People are starting to realize that elephants don’t naturally do handstands and killer whales don’t naturally jump through hoops.
But when will people realize that monkeys don’t naturally ride dogs? When the Banana Derby opened at the Lake County Fair in Illinois today, the bleachers were packed with more than 800 spectators.
“I think it’s fun. I think it’s clever,” Michele Longhini, a counselor with the Good Times summer camp, told a Chicago Tribune reporter.
What Longhini may not realize is that, unlike the name of her camp, the Banana Derby provides few good times for its participants. Those cute little capuchin monkeys are chained to the dogs, and struggle to stay upright as they run. Those cute little jockey costumes must get hot and itchy in the middle of summer. Capuchin monkeys naturally belong in trees, not on dogs’ backs and in cramped cages.
That’s right — USDA inspectors have previously found two instances in which Banana Derby’s promoter, Philip Dolci, kept the monkeys in a cage that was smaller than the minimum required size. In another instance, a dog was not securely restrained when being transported, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Dolci insists he takes good care of the animals.
“If I was doing something wrong, the people of Lake County wouldn’t have brought their kids back for six years to see us,” he told UPI. “They say, ‘We see the monkey every year.’ They know the monkey’s name. It’s insanity, really.”
I agree with that last sentence.
Board Members and Animal Experts Don’t Think Monkey Jockeys Are Cute
Two months ago, 16 of the 21 Lake County board members signed a letter opposing the Banana Derby at the county fair.
“We do not feel that paying a vendor to chain monkeys to the backs of dogs, rescue or otherwise, is the kind of attraction that the Lake County Fair should be endorsing,” wrote county board member Sandra Hart in the letter to Jon Brodzik, Jr., president of the Lake County Fair Board.
Also voicing opposition to having the Banana Derby at the Lake County Fair: the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Chicago zoo associations, animal welfare groups and more than 3,500 petition signers.
Hart told CBS Chicago she feels the Banana Derby “diminishes the value of these animals. When you dress them up in little jockey outfits, and have them running around a ring like that, it kind of exploits those animals.”
The Chicago Zoological Association also sent a letter to the fair board. “The use of primates in this show has serious welfare consequences for the monkeys, poses public health and safety concerns, and may even have consequences for primate conservation,” the association wrote, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Despite these protests from people who know better, the Banana Derby was not cancelled. And for the first time ever, nearby DuPage County will host the Banana Derby at its fair next month.
Also Not Cute: ‘Cowboy Monkeys’
The Banana Derby is not the only company making a profit by exploiting these animals. “Cowboy” capuchin monkeys riding Border Collies make frequent appearances at rodeos and sporting events.
“Although marketed as an ‘amusement’ act, many people find this show offensive and upsetting as they recognize that it is undoubtedly frightening and harmful to the helpless monkeys who may suffer psychological distress and risk serious physical injuries,” writes the HSUS in its fact sheet, “‘Cowboy Monkey’ Acts Are Abusive to Primates.”
Tim Lepard, whose monkeys and dogs perform under the name “Team Ghost Riders,” has been repeatedly cited by the USDA for violating the minimum standards of the federal Animal Welfare Act. According to the HSUS, these citations include “keeping animals in unsanitary conditions, failure to provide adequate crowd management and safety barriers, inadequate shelter, improper food storage, failure to dispose of expired deworming and heartworm preventative medications, and repeatedly being unavailable for animal welfare inspections.”
Nevertheless, last month USA TODAY’s For the Win called the appearance of Team Ghost Riders at a minor league game “the best promotion in baseball.”
Really, USA TODAY?
What do you think — is the Banana Derby and its ilk cute or cruel? Please leave a comment below.