“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
In spite of the endangered species status of both orangutans and chimpanzees and 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.
The Apes You See are Infants and Juveniles
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.
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 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?
Where Do They Go as Adults?
The sad fact is that for past decades these famous simian actors who made us laugh have often ended up as experimental subjects in biomedical research, in roadside zoos, 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 sanctuaries where they can live with their own species in enriched environments with good nutrition and veterinary health care. At this point, often the sanctuaries take on the entire responsibility of providing the financial care for these former entertainers for the next 50 years after their retirement from show business.
There is a Solution
In an age where processes like Computer Graphic Imaging (CGI) and other digital animation techniques allow 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 impact the lives of chimpanzees and orangutans for their entertainment value.