Founder, International Primate Protection League A true global citizen, Shirley McGreal, Ed.D., was born and raised in England, and lived in Thailand, France, and various parts of U.S. before settling in South Carolina at the gibbon sanctuary she established in 1977. Originally planning a career as a college professor, Dr. McGreal was unexpectedly drawn into a more adventurous life. As a result of her work confronting international animal smugglers, she has gone undercover to investigate primate smuggling rings and laboratories, received death threats from illicit animal dealers, and been the target of groundless lawsuits. In recognition of Dr. McGreal’s work, in 2008, AAVS presented her with the Caroline Earle White Award, named in honor of our founder. AAVS had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. McGreal and talk about the founding of her group, the International Primate Protection League (IPPL), and her work as an animal advocate.
was living in Thailand, and I saw all the abuses of animals at places like the markets and the airport. Back then, a lot of people had gibbons in their homes. We ended up getting two gibbons from a family—there were actually two and then later another one from a family who was leaving the area. Then we learned there was a gibbon lab in Bangkok—a U.S. Army Southeast Asia treaty organization lab. I wanted to find out what was going on, and this nice man who worked there gave me some annual reports and told me what they were doing. They were in fact exporting gibbons for research in the United States. I thought, I have to get in touch with a group that’s working on these particular problems—but I found that there wasn’t any. So I started one. It was just me, and then a couple of friends. How long did that take?
I got interested in these in issues in ‘72, and started the group in ’73. You acted quickly. How did your group expand?
We got some publicity going in Singapore, and checked out the smuggling there—I was able to infiltrate two of the
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most notorious smugglers, pretending to be interested in making an illegal shipment. They told me all their tricks. And there was an article that the Bangkok Post wrote with me, called “The Singapore Connection,” which went worldwide on the Associated Press. That’s great exposure! Sounds dangerous, though. Are activists working on smuggling issues today at risk?
It’s not safe to be an activist in some countries. In Indonesia, we have activists whom we work with to block the traffic in monkeys. One time, these Indonesian activists blocked the road where the Ministry of Forestry was driving, demanding that the Javan langur be given protection. This Minister was just about to run them down, but he stopped to talk, and the young people got what they wanted. Can you tell us about Thailand’s ban on primate exports?
We had a project in the airport where we got university students, about 50 of them, all going ‘round the clock ‘round the airport looking for animal shipments and logging every single one—the conditions, whether the animals had food, the size of the cages, the ventilation—all the things that are very much important to safe transport. You could walk anywhere
PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE INTERNATIONAL PRIMATE PROTECTION LEAGUE
AAVS: How did IPPL start? DR. McGREAL: IPPL started when I
2011, Issue 3 - Primates in Science