Chimpanzees Don’t Belong on Either Side of the Theater Screen

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 Northwests 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


Christine Jones
Christine J1 years ago

Very disappointing, especially as the film people did the right thing and made a good movie without exploiting live chimps.

Melania Padilla
Melania P2 years ago

Wild animals belong to, well, the wild!

Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Yvette S.
Yvette S3 years ago

Shared on Twitter

Georgina Elizab McAlliste
.3 years ago

Anything to make money.......STOP IT!!!!!

Maria Teresa Schollhorn

Animals are not for entertainment!

Angev GERIDONI3 years ago

Thank you to all who love the animals and the planet, and who already signed the petition to protect horses from Pétropolis, if no, please help give an happy end to the sad story of those enslaved animals, and share these petitions :
1) Care 2

Thank you for sharing

Lisa Zilli
Lisa Zilli3 years ago

No way would I be in the same theater as a chimpanzee, I've seen nature shows, they are very aggressive. That being said, I'm glad they didn't use any real apes in the actual filming of the movie.

Bill C.
Bill C3 years ago

Exactly how much does a chimp pay to see a movie?

as a human I have not been able to afford one in 10 years so I am curious.

Shalvah Landy
Past Member 3 years ago

Joan E. comment posted 2:05PM PDT on Jul 21, 2014
ARE YOU SERIOUS?????????????????????