Animal welfare activists will hoist bananas and banners today at the B&I shopping center in Tacoma to urge the store's owners to let their lonely gorilla, Ivan, go to what they believe is a better home.
''Our message is that it's bananas to keep Ivan here, '' said Cindy Chapman, of the Progressive Animal Welfare Society.
The protesters will also pass out petitions in favor of moving Ivan to the Dallas Zoo, which has offered to adopt the 27-year-old animal. And if Ivan's owners don't respond, PAWS plans to launch a boycott of the store, said director Mitchell Fox.
''I hope it doesn't come to that, '' Fox said Friday. ''But it was shameful that this was socially acceptable in the 1950s, and it's completely unforgivable in the 1990s.''
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Ivan has lived alone in an indoor cage at B&I, billed as The World Famous Circus Store, since he was 3 years old. Gorilla experts believe he may be the only privately owned gorilla in the country and is certainly the only one on display in a store.
Ivan was recently featured in a National Geographic television special that contrasted his solitary existence with modern zoo exhibits that display the animals in family groups and natural, outdoor habitats.
The Dallas Zoo, which boasts one of these state-of-the-art gorilla environments, wants to move Ivan and integrate him with others of his species.
So far, though, Ron Irwin, who owns Ivan, has not agreed to give him up.
Irwin did not return calls Friday from The Morning News Tribune, but he said earlier that Ivan is like a member of his family. He also has said he is concerned about the trauma of moving the 425-pound gorilla.
Gorilla experts concede there is a risk in transporting the animal and introducing him to other gorillas, but they point to the recent successes with two similar male gorillas as an indication that things would probably work out to Ivan's benefit.
''Obviously, (Irwin) wants to do what's right for Ivan, '' said Warren Iliff, director of the Dallas Zoo. ''If he did decide to have the animal here, there would be a lot we would have to think about in terms of how to minimize the trauma for Ivan.''
Iliff said he would like Irwin to visit the exhibit at Dallas to see the conditions under which Ivan could live and offer suggestions about how to ease the transition -- if he agrees to let the animal move. And if Ivan was moved, it would be important to have Irwin or some of his keepers accompany him and help him get used to his strange new home.
Experts who are familiar with Ivan's situation agree the gorilla is humanely cared for and well-treated at B&I. But gorillas are intelligent, social creatures who need the company of other gorillas and the stimulation of a natural environment to be truly content, they feel.
''The plain fact is that in 1991, it's not appropriate to have a beautiful, brilliant, wonderful animal like the gorilla living by itself in a department store, '' Iliff said.
Several petitions are circulating around the Tacoma area calling for Ivan's release. Eleven-year-old Pamela Rockstead of Lakewood has collected more than 250 signatures, while Barb Johnston of Graham has gathered about 400.
''I have never felt good about seeing Ivan in that cage, '' said Johnston, who has lived and worked in the area for 18 years. ''I always wanted to do something, but I didn't know how to go about it.''
Today's protest is scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. B&I is located at 8012 South Tacoma Way.
Petition information is available from Rockstead, at 584-2991; Johnston at 847-9447; or PAWS, in Lynnwood, 742-4142.