Public Perception of Wild Apes
Another caveat to using chimps in particular is that studies have indicated that their prominence in print ads, television commercials, movies, and other types of media has altered the public perception regarding their status in the wild. CITES lists all chimpanzee subspecies as endangered in the wild. A group of researchers conducted a study at Lincoln Park Zoo, asking visitors which of the great apes they believed were endangered. According to their study, most visitors believed that orangutans and gorillas were endangered, but a majority of visitors did not believe chimpanzees were endangered. When asked why, a majority of people replied that it was because chimps were so often seen in the media (Ross et al. 2008). As we all know, public perception and understanding is the key to protecting the wild relatives of the species in our care. Misconceptions about the chimpanzee's status in the wild could potentially deprive them of much needed support.
We have a lot to learn about chimpanzees, our closest living relatives. Currently, there are many research projects involving chimpanzees that are opening our eyes to their cognitive abilities. Many of these projects are investigating to what extent chimpanzees possess some of the same social traits as humans, such as cooperation and body language. This research is important as it may provide us with information as to how culture within our own species has evolved. Putting chimpanzees in clothing and training them to ride around a stage on a tricycle is not an appropriate message about this great African ape.