Why the Viral Video of a Young Chimpanzee Scrolling Through Instagram Isn’t So Cute

A viral video of a young chimpanzee scrolling through Instagram might be hard to resist, and it might seem pretty harmless at first glance, but it’s not nearly as cute as it seems.

According to Motherboard, the video originated from the Instagram account of Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, who owns and operates The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (T.I.G.E.R.S.) in South Carolina, which is otherwise known as Myrtle Beach Safari. It shows a young chimp who Antle confirmed is named Sugriva scrolling through Mike Holston’s (@therealtarzann) account. It had already racked up thousands of views, but continued to rack up more after Holston shared it.

According to Antle, Surgriva is “an animal ambassador connecting peoples hearts and minds to the wonder of chimpanzees and the plight they face in the world.” Yet while people are clicking and commenting on what seems to be adorably intelligent and curious little chimpanzee, there’s a much darker side to it and the video has drawn some seriously harsh criticism from multiple primatologists, including Dr. Jane Goodall, for a number of reasons.

For one, it promotes a dangerous perception that chimpanzees can make good pets, or that they can be domesticated, but they’re wild animals, and they’re expensive, active, destructive, unpredictable and get too big, difficult, potentially aggressive and dangerous to handle – and when that reality sets in for owners, there are few places for them to go.

Concerns have also been raised about how keeping them in captivity and exploiting them for profit this way is hurting true conservation efforts to protect them in the wild by driving the demand for them, and creating the illusion that they’re doing fine when they aren’t.

Chimpanzees are now highly endangered in the wild, and while both wild and captive chimpanzees are now protected under the Endangered Species Act in the U.S., populations in the wild, who once numbered in the millions, have severely declined over the years and they continue to face a number of threats ranging from habitat loss and fragmentation to disease and poaching for meat and the pet trade.

According to the Jane Goodall Institute, it’s estimated that 3,000 great apes are stolen from the wild every year, and regardless of the intentions behind content like this, “it is part of the larger issue of social media videos and posts of this kind driving the illegal trade in chimpanzees and other great apes as pets,” which doesn’t just cause problems for their species as a whole, but also for individuals in captivity.

They’re highly intelligent and social animals, and they have specific needs that need to be met. Dressing them up, treating them like human children, dragging them around like props and letting people mishandle them only harms them in the end, and can have long lasting psychological impacts on them.

Goodall wrote in a statement:

I am very disappointed to see the inappropriate portrayal of a juvenile chimpanzee in this video which is currently circulating on social media. Chimpanzees are highly social animals, very intelligent and have complex emotions like humans – it is imperative that we portray them appropriately and that they receive the best possible care in captive environments. Portraying chimpanzees in this way on social media is also perpetuating the illegal pet trade in great apes, and as they cannot be domesticated, interactions with humans as displayed by this video are highly dangerous, as well as harmful to the well-being of the chimpanzee. As responsible and compassionate individuals, I hope anyone who sees the video will not like, share or comment on it and all responsible media outlets change the coverage of the video to highlight stories of chimpanzees in wild or responsible captive care. And I hope and urge the people who have chimpanzees in their care will cease use of him in this way and join those of us who are working to end the cruel treatment of chimpanzees in entertainment.

Notably, this isn’t the first video of a wild animal doing something cute that has gone viral, but it is a certainly a reminder about how social media can be used to hurt wildlife and why we need to dig a little deeper into what’s happening before clicking and sharing – and for people who are sharing this type of content to think a little harder about the consequences for the animals involved before they do it.

It’s also not the first time this particular facility has come under fire for the mistreatment of primates, or multiple other species in its care, and allowing public contact with them, and it’s probably also worth mentioning its ties to other substandard roadside zoos. Last year it was also featured on In Defense of Animals’ list of the Top 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants for keeping Bubbles, an African elephant, alone since the early 1980s and using her as a pool toy for people to play on, while Antle has racked up a laundry list of violations of the Animal Welfare Act going back years.

Hopefully this video, which was supposed to be cute, will have the opposite effect and encourage more people to avoid this place and others like it, which do nothing for the conservation of wild animals, and learn about the differences between reputable sanctuaries and roadside zoos that use animals to make money with little regard for their needs.

You can help by signing and sharing the petition urging Myrtle Beach Safari to stop encouraging the illegal wildlife trade and mistreatment of endangered species by not sharing content like this on social media and ending its animal encounters.

Photo credit: Getty Images

81 comments

Christine V
Christine V2 months ago

I haven't been following this story but hopefully it's not viral anymore.

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Cindy M. D
Cindy M. D2 months ago

Thank you Jane Goodall - I agree with you 100 percent!! Social Media should be used responsibly but sadly it never is.

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Jennifer H
Jennifer H2 months ago

Gotta love Jane. Seeing the big picture through the cute. It would be easy to be taken in by the cuteness. I'm glad she can explain to others why this is so wrong.

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joan s
joan silaco2 months ago

These so called places are pimping chimps and not helping them the long run.

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ANA MARIJA R
ANA MARIJA R2 months ago

well said, Georgina Elizab McAllister
Petition already signed & shared

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Richard B
Richard B2 months ago

Done

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Ellie L
Past Member 2 months ago

signed

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Georgina Elizab M
Georgina Elizab M2 months ago

I agree so very much. We have to be very careful of what we show on social .Everything "cute " automatically becomes toys for humans...Who will never learn Animals arentToys or Entertaining elements for humans.

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danii p
danii p2 months ago

TYFS

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danii p
danii p2 months ago

TYFS

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