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“No Animals Harmed”… the price of fame

Thinking back to movies and TV shows I enjoyed growing up, many of them included non-human primate actors. Primates are cute, funny, and smart. It is understandable that they would be considered entertaining.

Although a small factor, use in the entertainment industry is a potent driving force for primate wildlife trade worldwide. Unfortunately, the price for fame for these primates comes at a great cost when you consider sourcing, living conditions, and impacts on public perceptions.

Almost all primate species are social to some degree. When live infant animals such as chimpanzees or gorillas are taken from the wild, often multiple troop members are killed. In the instance that the primate destined for entertainment was born in a human care environment, the infant is usually pried away from its mother prematurely. In either case, the infant is deprived of being raised in a natural social group, leading to significant emotional and psychological distress. Once the primate reaches a certain age (usually around 7 years old), the individual becomes harder to handle and is “retired” from the industry. Because they did not grow up in a natural social group, they haven’t learned how to correctly interact in a troop and are hard to integrate.

Movies, TV shows, stage shows, and other entertainment venues will provide viewers with the guarantee that “No Animals Were Harmed…” While there are regulations on how animals must be treated while “working” on-set, the day-to-day living conditions are not checked on. The animal handlers may use fear or physical discipline to elicit the desired behaviors. In addition, the behaviors may not be normal or species-typical behaviors.

Finally, when viewers see primates such as chimpanzees or capuchins in an entertainment role, their perception of the species can become distorted. Viewers may believe that primates make good pets. As complex, social creatures, all primate species require specialized care too complex for a household. Also problematic is the misunderstanding of the primate’s conservation status. Seeing primates in an entertainment venue leads viewers to think that the species is not endangered. This can have dire impacts on conservation funding and support for that species.

You can help put a stop to this aspect of the primate wildlife trade.

  • Refuse to view movies or shows featuring live primates. Opt for cartoons, CGI, or humans dressed in a costume.
  • When traveling abroad or visiting the local fair, ensure that there are no primates being exploited for entertainment purposes.
  • Share what you’ve learned. The more people that know about the detrimental impacts of primates in entertainment, the more that can help.
    Support your local AZA zoo.
  • Finally, October 29 is World Lemur Day. Join us at Zoo Atlanta for a day full of family fun activities to learn all about this special primate family member.

Sources:

Great Ape Survival Partnership. (2013). Stolen Apes – The Illicit Trade in Chimpanzees, Gorillas, Bonobos and Orangutans [PDF]. Retrieved from https://www.un-grasp.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/StolenApes-English.pdf
Nijman, V., Nekaris, K. A. I., Donati, G., Bruford, M., & Fa, J. (2011). Primate conservation: Measuring and mitigating trade in primates. Endangered Species Research, 13(2), 159–161. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00336
Norconk, M. A., Atsalis, S., Tully, G., Santillán, A. M., Waters, S., Knott, C. D., Ross, S. R., Shanee, S., & Stiles, D. (2019). Reducing the primate pet trade: Actions for primatologists. American Journal of Primatology, 82(1). https://doi.org/10.1002/ajp.23079
Schroepfer KK, Rosati AG, Chartrand T, Hare B (2011) Use of “Entertainment” Chimpanzees in Commercials Distorts Public Perception Regarding Their Conservation Status. PLOS ONE 6(10): e26048. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0026048
Vise, Ruby (n.d.) Out of the forest and onto your TV: Why primates don’t belong in the entertainment industry. Retrieved September 7, 2021 from Pan African Sanctuary Alliance website: https://pasa.org/awareness/why-primates-have-never-belonged-in-the-entertainment-industry/
Zoo Atlanta. (2021) Learn about primate conservation. Interpretive Resource Library.

Kimberly Rodgers
Interpretive Programs Supervisor

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl