My memorable meeting with C.J. the Orangutan.

C.J the Orangutan actor, life and death of C.J

C.J’s life and death was not a happy one.

There have been many animals that I have met during my career which have shaped my attitudes to animal welfare and rights issues and have made a profound impact on me and one of these was a Hollywood star orangutan named C.J.

Our meeting occurred while I was duty manager at the London Heathrow Animal Quarantine Station, (now the Heathrow Animal Reception Centre), and I had to supervise C.J’s overnight stay as a VIP guest. She was transiting back to the USA following a starring role in the movie Any Which Way You Can with Clint Eastwood.

It was my first ever close up and personal encounter with a real live Orang and at one point C.J took a fancy to my beard and sidled over, without prompting from the trainer, and stroked it. C.J stared mournfully into my eyes and gave me a kiss and from that moment I have always been convinced that you can tell an animals’ state of well-being by the look in its eyes.

Orang-utan, animal actor, movies, animal cruelty
There was something very saddening about seeing C.J doing tricks at the command of the trainer and being so submissive.

C.J sitting in the staff lounge with coffee and cigar in hand was neither an edifying or humorous experience.

Although captivated and overwhelmed at our face to face meeting I could tell from its demeanour that this was not a happy animal and I was saddened and disconcerted at the way C.J had obviously been humanised, particularly at one point when the trainer made a cup of coffee and lit up a cigar. Seeing C.J sitting in the staff lounge with coffee and cigar in hand was not an edifying or humorous experience nor was the submissive reactions to the trainers’ commands.

The encounter with C.J gave me the firm belief that it was not acceptable to train animals for our entertainment and there was something very wrong with forcibly humanising animals in this way, particularly apes, which after all are more like us than most other creatures and do not deserve to be belittled in this way.

Death of C.J.

Information about the life and death of C.J is confused and sketchy and is often muddled with his actor colleagues Manis and Buddha who all played “Clyde” at some stage. They all belonged to the animal training company called Gentle Jungle who perhaps did not live up to their name when it came to looking after the animals. C.J. is said to have been born in the Dallas Zoo and had two trainers, Paul Reynolds and Bill Gage one of which accompanied him when he travelled through Heathrow that day.

According to the Los Angeles Times C.J or Clyde was badly beaten by a trainer for misbehaving during the filming of “Any Which Way You Can” and died later of a cerebral haemorrhage, but there is much debate about this. Whatever the circumstances of his death, his life was obviously no picnic despite the admiration and media coverage he received and meeting him just for the those few hours was such a privilege and had an indelible affect on me. I just hope in these times of CGI we can consign the use of live animals in movies to history.

Updated February 2020

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Author: John Brookland

John Brookland has been passionate about animals from an early age and has always been more concerned about their individual health and well-being than any scientific or zoological interest. During his long and varied career in animal welfare in the U.K. and worldwide, he has unfortunately witnessed most of the horrors of animal cruelty there is to see and has gained extensive insight into animal welfare issues. On leaving school he trained as an RSPCA clinic assistant in London and later was manager of one of their veterinary hospitals and an animal centre. He was Chief Inspector and manager of the Bahamas Humane Society in Nassau and spent time in Trinidad advising on a humane stray dog control service, before becoming a deputy manager and animal health inspector at Heathrow's Animal Quarantine Centre. He then travelled the world for a conservation group investigating the capture and transport of wildlife for the pet trade and was an honorary consultant to the IUCN and CITES. He is now retired and still travelling the world with his partner to view wildlife and wild places and writing a blog and books on animals.

One thought on “My memorable meeting with C.J. the Orangutan.”

  1. There were 2 Clydes. The original Clyde is the one who was beaten by the trainers and killed. CJ, the second orangutan, was eventually sold to the Dallas Zoo by another trainer from Gentle Jungle. He or she, but I always knew him as a He, was in bad condition when received at the zoo. I don’t know his fate thereafter.

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