Apes in Entertainment

BamBam starred in soap opera

Those who wish to pet and baby wild animals "love" them. But those who respect their natures and wish to let them live normal lives, love them more.
- Edwin Way Teale, Circle of the Seasons, 1953

The Real Story of Apes in Entertainment...

Great apes are sentient animals who have the same emotions (positive and negative) as humans - compassion, affection, jealousy, anger, generosity, embarrassment, sense of humor, joy, homesickness, and sadness. In all the animal kingdom, they are the closest to man in behavior and intelligence, but they are not pseudo-humans or clowns for our pleasure.

Sammy in a popular movie

In spite of the public's increased sensitivity and awareness of animal protection issues, chimpanzees and orangutans are still used today to perform in live stage shows at tourist attractions, television productions, movies, circuses, print ads, studio work for commercials, mall openings, casino appearances, state fairs, and late night talk shows.

The truth is that great apes used in these situations are only babies or juveniles. Infant apes are used because adolescent and adult orangutans and chimpanzees are too strong and unmanageable, and therefore too dangerous to work around the public or around actors on sets.

At this very young age, chimpanzees and orangutans can be cute, endearing, sometimes funny, and the public loves them. They star in award-winning ads. When they appear in these advertisements, they make money for the company selling their product, as well as for the advertising agency, the ad production crew, the trainers, the actors, and everyone connected with the ad... but not for the apes themselves.

Bella in CareerBuilders ad

Using great apes in advertising and entertainment may be successful for the trainer, the studio, or the advertising agency, but it usually means a life of misery and uncertainty for the apes.

Apes used in the entertainment business are taken away from their mothers when only weeks or months old, to be raised by humans and taught unnatural behaviors and tricks. But, they only have a working "shelf- life" of six to eight years. Since chimpanzees can live in captivity for over 60 years, where do they go after their working career is over at age eight, and still a juvenile?

The sad fact is that for decades these famous simian actors who made us laugh have ended up as experimental subjects in biomedical research... or in deplorable and shabby roadside zoos... or in tiny backyard cages... or in breeder compounds where their own babies were pulled from them to repeat the whole process of working young apes for entertainment.

Today more ex-entertainment apes are finding their way into legitimate sanctuaries where they can live with their own species in enriched environments with good nutrition and without exploitation. But the nine or ten great ape sanctuaries in North America are all currently at or over capacity. And, since the trainers and owners of these apes rarely (if ever) provide any funding to the sanctuaries to take their apes off their hands, the sanctuaries take the entire responsibility of providing the financial care for these former entertainers for the next 50 years after their retirement from show business.

Roger in Ringling Bros Circus

In an age where processes like animatronics and digital animation allows filmmakers and TV producers to create animal likenesses on computers... and where computer animated movies like "Happy Feet" and "King Kong" were box office successes, there is no need to ruin the lives of chimpanzees and orangutans for their entertainment value.

Sanctuaries work to protect these orangutans and chimpanzees and provide a future for them. But the next and most important need is for the public - i.e. you - to object to the use of apes in entertainment and to let the "users" (movie producers, ad agencies, TV studios) know that this is no longer acceptable to an enlightened generation!

Apes as Pets

Infant chimpanzees and orangutans nurse on their birth mothers for four to six years in the wild as well as in zoos. They are carried constantly the first year on their mother's body, and they stay with their mothers until they are 8 or 9 years old. They learn all the necessary behaviors, protocols, and skills that they need to interact with other chimpanzees in their social groups. They form life-long bonds with their mothers and other apes in their families.

But, when breeders sell chimpanzees as pets, they are always removed from their own mothers while tiny infants, within months of birth, so that the human owners can "bond" with their pets and have more control over them at a younger age and smaller size. Their owners usually dress them, keep them in their homes, and treat them like human babies. They become little pseudo-humans and are, at first, very entertaining for the human family and their friends.

Then, when these human-like pets grow to only about five or six-years-old (still considered infants and almost juveniles), they become extremely strong with an intelligent mind of their own. And then the trouble starts for the family. These hand-raised apes are used to living in a house in the company of their human family and are unhappy being suddenly restricted full-time to a cage. Often a family-member or neighbor is bitten by the growing ape, and the owners must find an alternate care situation.

When these ex-pet chimpanzees are sent away to breeders, roadside zoos, or sanctuaries... they usually have serious problems dealing with other chimps and even recognizing that they themselves are not humans, but apes. Ex-pet great apes have the most trouble interacting with their own species when they've been raised alone in a home because they have not learned the necessary behaviors and protocols to interact with their own species. They often grow neurotic and miserable trying to deal with living with other chimpanzees.

Even if the human pet-owner tries to keep the juvenile, adolescent, and even adult ape, the troubles presented in managing a great ape in an indoor or backyard cage are nearly insurmountable. And, since great apes can live over 50 years in captivity - the additional problem of what happens to the chimpanzee or orangutan when the pet-owners die is a challenge since most other family members do not want the huge responsibility of taking on the very expensive care of a long-lived adult ape.

Great ape infants currently cost between $45,000 and $70,000 (or more) and can only be owned legally in certain states where the wildlife laws permit this. Over the past 20 years, owners who have purchased infant apes have said time and time again that they will be different and keep their apes forever, because they are dearly loved. But when the reality hits that it is extremely difficult to keep a super-strong, 150 to 200-pound dangerous adult ape in the confines of a private home, these owners are suddenly and desperately looking for someone else to take on the care and responsibility of their once-beloved "son" or "daughter".

Currently, we have a waiting list of 12 adolescent and adult chimpanzees whose owners are asking us to take in at the sanctuary. And, at a cost of annual care for each ape at well over $10,000 for the next 40 to 50 years of their lives... it's a multi-million dollar commitment for sanctuaries to take over where pet owners stepped out.

In Memory Of...

Since people working apes don't want unproductive adolescent chimpanzees (especially young macho males) they look for other places to send them. And when cute baby pet chimpanzees who have lived in human homes become too large to be handled safely by their owners, they need a home quickly.

Accredited zoos rarely accept these human-raised apes, and it is difficult to find a place suited to meet their needs. So, many of these discarded apes have been sent into unsuitable facilities with inexperienced staff. Some of these scenarios recently have resulted in tragedy.

  • Just a few years ago several ex-pet adolescents and adults were sent to a private ranch owner (with no chimpanzee experience) who wanted to get into the breeding business. Within months of their arrival, three of the chimpanzees died.
  • Another female who produced eight babies for a renowned Hollywood trainer was separated from her mate and companions at the entertainment compound (where she had lived for twenty years) and ended up in a drive-through safari park where she died only a month after her arrival.
  • Two adolescent male chimpanzees that appeared with many famous actors and actresses in their early years, but were sent to a private family's compound when they grew too strong to perform, made the news several years ago when they escaped from their backyard cage and attacked a man severely. Both young males were shot and killed.
  • Tyler, another chimpanzee actor who starred in the movie Race to Space with James Woods about the NASA chimps, was "out-placed" from an entertainment compound along with his brother when they also grew too big to work in show business. They were sent to a small unaccredited zoo in Royal, Nebraska where they lived for only a year or two in tiny cages. When Tyler and his three chimpanzee companions at the roadside zoo found themselves in a cage that the keeper had left unlocked, they took flight... but they did not attack anyone. Eleven-year-old Tyler was still shot and killed as were two of his companions who had once been pets in people's homes. When his brother saw Tyler die, he ran back to the unlocked cage and closed himself inside. His brother, Ripley, has since been sent to another unaccredited zoo.
Buddy Tyler
(photo taken at the time he starred in the movie "Race to Space" with actor James Wood)
Buddy, Ollie, and Ripley as babies in entertainment

Buddy, Tyler, Ollie, & Ripley during their working years as infants and before they were "out-placed" from entertainment.
Buddy was 16 when he was shot and killed, and Tyler was only 11.