That's Not EntertainmentNovember 13th, 2003
(Hollywood, California) Cruelty to animals is no laughing matter. Yet every day millions of television viewers witness animal cruelty...and think it’s funny.
The sad truth of it is, these viewers simply don’t know that every time they see a chimpanzee acting human on TV — by wearing clothes, riding a tricycle or pretending to speak or smile — they’re actually viewing the product of a cruel cycle of exploitation, intimidation and abuse.
Now ALDF and its allies have set out to break that cycle by releasing a shocking new report that exposes the cruel “training” that’s necessary to turn wild chimpanzees into cringing show biz “performers.” Titled “Serving a Life Sentence for Your Viewing Pleasure: The Case for Ending the Use of Great Apes in Film and Television,” the report was created by the Chimpanzee Collaboratory, an alliance of attorneys, scientists and public policy experts committed to helping chimps. Founded by ALDF and a coalition of likeminded organizations, the Collaboratory announced the release of the report at a press conference this fall.
At the press conference, world-renowned chimpanzee expert Dr. Jane Goodall called on directors, writers, actors and other show business professionals to boycott productions that use chimpanzee performers. Among those attending the event were actresses Frances Fisher (Unforgiven, Titanic) and Lucinda Jenney (The Mothman Prophecies, S.W.A.T.) Sitcom star Wendie Malick (Just Shoot Me) rose spontaneously to describe her unsettling encounters with Hollywood chimp trainers. C Chimpanzee Collaboratory Research Consultant Sarah Baeckler, an expert in primate behavior, also shared her experiences working with chimpanzee “actors.”
“If the chimpanzees try to run away from a trainer, they are beaten,” said Baeckler, who researched the treatment of show business primates by spending a year as a volunteer at a prominent chimp-training compound. “If they bite someone, they are beaten. If they don’t pay attention, they are beaten. Sometimes they are beaten without any provocation or for things that are completely out of their control.”
According to Baeckler, she witnessed trainers punching baby chimpanzees and was told to kick the animals in the face because they were “sturdy” and supposedly couldn’t be hurt.
Jane Goodall makes a point at the Chimp Collaboratory press conference.
The Collaboratory’s 24-page report exhaustively documents such abuses, detailing how highly intelligent primates are transformed into fearful, cowering props for use in the entertainment industry. Baby chimpanzees are torn from their mothers years before they would even be weaned in the wild. “Trained” through a harsh regimen of regular beatings, the chimps begin performing around age 3 and are retired — i.e. discarded — when they grow too large to control through physical intimidation, usually around age 8.
Once their performing days are over, the animals often end up in the hands of run-down roadside tourist attractions or unscrupulous breeders. Never properly socialized with other chimps, they usually spend the rest of their lives in isolation and squalor. (To read the report in its entirely, go to the Chimpanzee Collaboratory’s website: www.chimpcollaboratory.org.
“If people knew about the abuses performing apes are subjected to, they’d be sickened every time they see a chimp on TV, not amused,” says ALDF's executive director Stephen Wells. “That’s why this report is so important. It can help educate the public while putting pressure on Hollywood to stop the abuse. It might take years, but with enough support I’m confident we can eventually bring down the curtain on chimpanzee exploitation in the entertainment industry.”
The other organizations in the Chimpanzee Collaboratory are the Jane Goodall Institute, the Ape Alliance of North America, the Center for Captive Chimpanzee Care, the Center for the Expansion of Fundamental Rights, the Doris Day Animal Foundation, the Friends of Washoe and the Great Ape Project.
The Chimpanzee Collaboratory's website offers frequently updated alerts on TV and film productions exploiting primates. To see the latest updates, click here.