Say no to primates in entertainment

Primates in Entertainment

Animals appearing in our visual culture — television, film, print and online — is sadly, still very common today. YouTube is a virtual curiosity cabinet of kittens in cups. Videos depicting captive animals behaving violently against human animals has become a source of “entertainment.” There is a very long history of primates in entertainment, including film and television. The American Humane Association first started monitoring the film industry in 1939 after a horse in Jesse James was made to jump off a cliff to its death. It was not until 1989’s Fat Boy and Little Man that the now familiar No Animals Were Harmed During the Making of this Film was added to the credits. If a film steps outside the boundaries today, there are still no film industry or AHA legal consequences other than, perhaps, a marketing effort for the public to boycott the box office.

A Long History of Primates in Entertainment

Bonzo, Cheeta and Lancelot Link were once famous chimps featured in film. In the 1990’s Marcel (a white-headed capuchin monkey named Katie) starred in the hit show Friends. More recently the drug-dealing capuchin Crystal in Hangover ll and the chino-wearing chimpanzee Chance of Wolf of Wallstreet had starring roles. There was some public outcry over Leonardo DiCaprio’s chimpanzee co-star, but nevertheless, the film went on to earn box office receipts over 392M.

Chimpanzee “actors” have been widely used in TV shows, music videos, films, commercials, circuses and live events. These  young chimps were removed from their mothers and trained by humans to make us laugh. To “entertain” us. Once they become adolescents they are powerful and dangerous and therefore discarded–sold off to a life in research or perhaps to a road side attraction or zoo where they live out the rest of their lives on display. Recently, Working Wildlife let go Chimpanzee Eli, who is now awaiting placement for a new home. Sue Ellen, Fauna’s matriarch suffered through this life. Sue spent her early years in the circus and when she was 15, she was sold to a research facility. (Read Sue Ellen’s story.)

Adam Lambert used a chimpanzee in his Can't Go Home video
Say NO to primates in entertaiment. Adam Lambert used a chimpanzee in his Can’t Go Home music video.

Say No to Primates in Entertainment

Chimpanzees featured on greeting cards are no different than their actor relatives. They are dressed in costumes and are condemned to a life of entertainment. That “smiling-like” mouth looking back at you and displaying both top and bottom teeth, is not a smile at all. It is actually a fear grimace.  A chimpanzee would display happiness with the upper lip pulled down covering the teeth, exposing only the bottom teeth, like Jethro is below. The chimpanzees sporting cowboy hats and frilly clothes are not happy at all.

Fauna Chimpanzee Jethro with a happy face
Jethro with a happy face, upper teeth covered and lower teeth exposed.

What Can You Do to End Primates in Entertainment?

Signing petitions, being conscientious of the posts you share and comment on, writing emails and letters — it all helps. But we are a consumer society. It is the mighty dollar that can help put a stop to the use of primates in entertainment. Therefore, as long as we watch the videos, tv shows and films; pay admission to the events, circuses and animal parks; and buy the cards and products featuring these “working” primates, we are contributing to the profits. Money encourages the use of these “props” or properties of human-run businesses. Money feeds these industries and creates the demand. Our money. Spend it wisely.

Additional information available: Testimony by Sarah Baeckler, JD. Delivered October 14, 2003 in Los Angeles, California at a briefing co-hosted by the Chimpanzee Collaboratory and the Environmental Media Association