Common Misconceptions of Apes

In order to fully understand the plight of apes that are a part of the entertainment industry, it is important to highlight common public misconceptions surrounding them. For example, chimpanzees used in movies, television and print ads are usually very small and have adorable, pink faces. Most consumers don't know that chimps used in the entertainment industry are all very young, are bred for the purpose of being used in the entertainment industry and as babies they are taken without question from their mothers to be hand raised by humans. What most people do not realize is that the older these great apes get, the stronger and more unpredictable they become. A full grown male chimpanzee can weigh between 130 and 140 lbs and is pound for pound about six times stronger than a person. Chimps also engage in loud, elaborate displays that in the wild are used to gain dominance. These displays often involve throwing objects, forceful kicking and charging of other individuals.

These natural behaviors become difficult to control and can become a a serious problem once juvenile and adolescent chimps begin to challenge their owners. For example, many trainers try to only use positive reinforcement training when working with chimps. Although this method is very effective in terms of training show behaviors, it is difficult to use positive reinforcement to curb a chimp's naturally aggressive tendencies. In order for these animals to remain under control on a movie set or around a large audience of people, some trainers will use methods such as shock collars to keep them from "acting out" and biting their trainers or other bystanders. Some will even resort to pulling out a chimp's teeth to make them less dangerous (www.janegoodall.org), making it extremely difficult for these individuals to defend themselves if and when they are placed with other chimpanzees. This issue is a double-edged sword. The more humane alternative to using shock collars is also dangerous, as apes who are not under some type of control when out in public could potentially cause serious injury due to their strength and potential aggressiveness.

What happens to these young actors when they become adults? Chimps and other great apes are very long lived; chimpanzees with proper care can live into their 60's. Most primates have very specific social, medical, and dietary requirements (see "Captive Ape Needs"). Often private owners who acquire apes do not have the resources to be able to care for these animals throughout their entire lives, which leaves their futures uncertain. As our closest relatives, great apes can catch many of the same kinds of diseases that we do, and can not be released into the wild once leaving the pet trade. Many zoos and sanctuaries can not take these entertainment apes as they lack the social skills to be able to be integrated into an appropriately behaved social group, having been raised by humans. As Jane Goodall has discovered, many of these animals are relinquished to laboratories once they are no longer acceptable as performers (www.janegoodall.org).