Popi was born at the Yerkes Primate Research Center in Atlanta. She was sold by Yerkes to a famous circus trainer who worked her in Hollywood movies, commercials and TV shows. When she was only seven or eight years old, Popi starred as the girlfriend of orangutan “Clyde” in the movie Any Which Way You Can, starring Clint Eastwood. She also starred in Going Ape with Tony Danza and Danny DeVito.
During this time, this circus trainer also worked Popi and several other younger orangutans in a Las Vegas nightclub show for two decades. While working at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas, a dancer in the show filmed the trainer backstage hitting his orangutans on the head and body minutes before each performance for seven days in a row. Public outcry ensued, and Popi was at the center of what became the first animal welfare lawsuit to raise critical questions about the treatment of great apes in entertainment.
At the end of the legal case against the trainer, he left the country but sent Popi and his other orangutans to a California entertainment compound. Popi was at this Hollywood training compound for several years until she was moved to the Great Ape Trust in Iowa in 2008. When the Great Ape Trust downsized their operation in 2011, the Center for Great Apes accepted Popi, along with female orangutan Allie, and they both arrived at our sanctuary in January of 2012.
(Note: Popi’s mother was captured as a baby in Borneo and shipped to Yerkes in Atlanta in 1963. On that same day, 19 other babies arrived at Yerkes from Borneo, including Mari’s mother and Radcliffe’s mother – all still infants in 1963. We notice a strong likeness between Popi and Radcliffe in their close-set eyes, their very dark color, and their unusually long fingers and toes. It is most likely that Popi and Radcliffe are closely related as cousins with parents related in the wild as half-siblings from a dominant male in the area where they were captured).