The status of some endangered species such as great pandas, whales and sea lions is widely known. Less known, however, is that both chimpanzees and orangutans are endangered species as well. Chimpanzees, numbered between 1 and 2 million at the turn of the 20th century. Today there are estimated to be fewer than 120,000 chimpanzees remaining in the wild. The numbers for orangutans are even more sobering, with the current population estimated to be less than 60,000.
Apes in Entertainment
Sadly, one of the biggest reasons people are less likely to think that chimpanzees and orangutans are endangered is because they see them so often in movies and TV. According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, “Dressing apes in human clothing, or training them to engage in unnatural (usually human) behaviors, while entertaining to some, inaccurately portrays their biology and conservation status. Since conservation efforts rely on informed public opinion, these practices serve to undermine communications vital to achieving conservation.” Great apes used in entertainment are most often 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. Many of the great apes that reside at the Center for Great Apes have either been retired from the entertainment industry.
Apes as Exotic Pets
Another way great apes end up in captivity is through the exotic pet trade. Chimpanzees and orangutans sold as exotic pets are removed from their mothers while still tiny infants. At first they are irresistibly cute and very entertaining for the human family and their friends. However, all too quickly they become too large and too strong to manage. When the reality hits the owners that it is extremely difficult and dangerous to keep a super-strong, 150 to 200-pound adult ape in the confines of a private home, they are suddenly and desperately looking for someone else to take on the care and responsibility of their once-beloved “exotic pet.” Mickey, Kiki, Linus, Katie, Toddy, Murray, Casey, Clyde, and Denyse are among those who started out as exotic pets before coming to the Center for Great Apes.
Apes in Research
The use of apes in research is an issue that has been widely reported on in recent years and is therefore a relatively more familiar topic with the general public than the issues that surround the use of apes in entertainment or the exotic pet trade. In the United States, finally many pharmaceutical companies and contract laboratories have made the commitment to no longer use chimpanzees in research. Currently, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has in place a plan to retire most of the apes owned by the federal government over a period of years to a government-funded sanctuary. With the 2015 law change designating chimpanzees in captivity as "endangered" species, the United States will inevitably join other countries that ban the use of great apes in research. Our apes, Popi, Allie, Bubbles and Mari were all born in research laboratories.
The Center for Great Apes is the only accredited orangutan sanctuary in North America and one of only a handful of accredited chimpanzee sanctuaries. We receive no government funding and are supported by donations from generous people like you who care about the future of our orangutans and chimpanzees. Find out more about how you can help.