Written by Debbie Metzler, Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest
A story appeared recently in the Daily Mail and Good Morning America showing images and video of two young chimpanzees, Vali and Sugriva, going to the theater with their “handlers” and watching the film Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The irony is that the two young chimpanzees were exploited for this publicity stunt, and brought into a theater to watch a movie that purposefully avoided using live ape actors.
The fluff piece, clearly set up for the media, presents the misleading notion that Vali and Sugriva are cared for at a sanctuary preserve, when in truth their home—Myrtle Beach Safari, operated by Bhagavan (Doc) Antle—is a glorified roadside zoo with a history of violations for improper housing and care.
Though they claim to be a sanctuary, the Safari regularly exploits their wild animals for a variety of media productions, endangers the public by offering “hands-on” experiences and traveling shows, breeds exotic animals, and takes babies away from their mothers for training—things that a reputable sanctuary would never do.
Antle is well-known for promoting “unlikely animal friendships” between an infant chimpanzee and a tiger, and an orangutan and a dog—relationships which were purposefully manufactured by trainers who introduced the animals at a very young age. Antle has written children’s books that highlight these unlikely friendships, which sends a very wrong message to children about the true nature of wild animals. Antle fosters the common misperception that chimpanzees are cute, cuddly and funny. It only perpetuates the breeding of chimpanzees in captivity and fuels the desire for private ownership of pet chimpanzees.
Antle has also been cited by the USDA for failure to provide animals with veterinary care, failure to provide clean and safe housing facilities, lighting and nutritious food, failure to handle dangerous animals safely, and failure to offer sufficient environmental enrichment to promote the psychological well being of primates.
Chimpanzees are still widely misunderstood. In movies, TV shows and advertisements, they are young—usually babies—and are seen as cute and funny. But chimpanzees are wild animals, and they become strong, aggressive and hard to control. If they are not properly enclosed, they pose a public safety risk—several chimpanzees have attacked and brutally mauled humans.
Chimpanzees in entertainment endure rigorous, often abusive, fear based training. Director of Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) Rupert Wyatt stated that they purposefully avoided using ape actors because, “To get apes to do anything you want them to do, you have to dominate them; you have to manipulate them into performing. That’s exploitative.” Director Matt Reeves continued the trend with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and opted for even more jaw-dropping, state-of-the-art motion performance capture technology and computer-generated imaging (CGI).
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a progressive movie that demonstrates that live, non-human ape “actors” are not needed to portray incredibly realistic characters. Bringing chimpanzees into a public theater to see the movie contradicts the very important bottom line that chimpanzees should not be used in entertainment and do not belong alongside humans.
Debbie Metzler is Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest‘s Advocacy Coordinator. The sanctuary, located in Washington State, provides a home to chimpanzees discarded from the entertainment and biomedical testing industries. The sanctuary also works to empower individuals to create change for apes in need everywhere through their advocacy program, Eyes on Apes.
Photo Credit (all images): Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest