If you thought you’d heard it all in terms of the backlash surrounding Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit issue—subscribers, Time Inc. staffers—think again.

Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest, a Washington state-based organization that supports chimpanzees "discarded from the entertainment and biomedical testing industries," has organized a letter-writing campaign protesting the magazine’s use of animals in its swimsuit pictorials.

In a letter sent to Sports Illustrated, Julia Gallucci of Chimpanzee Sanctuary criticized the magazine’s use of a macaque and a bear on location at a Russian vodka distillery. "I wanted to let you know that exotic animals typically endure excessively brutal training methods at the hands of their trainers, who dominate the animals and force them to perform unnatural behaviors for the camera," Gallucci wrote. "Please make the responsible decision never to exploit exotic animals in your publication again."

An SI rep says the magazine has received more than two dozen similar letters.

"We have tremendous respect and admiration for those who share our passion for the protection of animal rights," reads a statement submitted to FOLIO: by Sports Illustrated. "We are rigorous in our adherence to the laws protecting the rights of animals and continue to place close scrutiny the ways in which we feature the beauty of the animal kingdom."

In February, Time staff writer Lisa Takeuchi Cullen wrote a blog post ("My Company Made Me Look at Porn") criticizing Time Inc. for distributing the swimsuit issue to employees.

SWIMSUIT AT THE NEWSSTAND

So how is the issue selling? Sports Illustrated says it is on pace for 1.2 million in single copy sales, the most since 2004 [see chart]. In the six weeks since the issue was posted online, Sports Illustrated says it has received 8 million unique visitors and 360 million page views.

YEAR SINGLE COPY SALES
2008 1,200,000*
2007 1,050,000
2006 1,153,000
2005 1,083,000
2004 1,400,000


SOURCE: SI
* estimate