AR-News: Goodall Group Calls for Curtain on Ape "Actors"

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Sat Feb 14 19:06:31 EST 2004

From:primfocus at

Goodall Group Calls for Curtain on Ape "Actors"

Jennifer Hile
National Geographic Channel
February 13, 2004

Chimpanzees make great on-screen comedians, whether wielding bananas like
cell phones, applauding new car designs, or trussed up in feather boas,
zealously overspending with stolen credit cards.
But the Chimpanzee Collaboratory-a team of attorneys, scientists, and
public-policy experts in Washington, D.C.-headed by famed primatologist Jane
Goodall, is launching a public-awareness campaign urging the entertainment
industry to ban great ape actors.

The group argues that the removal of infant chimps from their mothers, the
use of negative reinforcement in training, and the disposal of many animals
in roadside zoos when they're too old to control, make apes' use in
entertainment inherently problematic.

 "The time has come to move beyond the misuse of creatures who are
vulnerable to our exploitation, intentional or not, precisely because they
are so like us," wrote Goodall in a letter to the Hollywood community in
October 2003.

Childhood of a Chimp

By human standards, wild chimpanzees enjoy a very close bond to their
mothers. Offspring and their mothers are inseparable during the first few
years of the youngster's life. Young chimps are carried during the day as
the mother forages and sleep with her in the same nest at night.

"When chimps reach age three or four, they start climbing and feeding on
their own," said primatologist Anne Pusey, head of research for the Jane
Goodall Institute, based in Silver Spring, Maryland. "But they still stick
close to mom. It's a very tight bond." The animals will not be completely
independent until age seven or eight.

A chimpanzee born in a breeding center or training compound in the United
States is usually taken from its mother within days of birth, often
forcibly-the goal is to transfer the animal's sense of attachment to human
caregivers. Critics argue that, as a result, young chimps never learn how to
be chimpanzees. Instead, instinctive behaviors like self-grooming and
vocalizing, considered interruptions on stage, are carefully weeded out.

"Chimps are playful, curious animals with very short attention spans. They
also have a tendency to play-bite. All of that works against them once
training starts," said Sarah Baeckler, a primatologist who spent 11 months
working in a training facility in Los Angeles before joining the Chimpanzee

Great apes do not have a history of domestication, which makes them tougher
to control than companion animals like dogs or cats.

"Chimpanzees are known for always pushing the limits of their trainers,"
said Roger Fouts, an animal behaviorist at the Central Washington University
and co-director of the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute, both in
Ellensburg, Washington. He studies how great apes learn.

"I've been working with chimps since 1967 and have yet to meet an animal
that is not willful, with an agenda all its own," Fouts said. Combine the
obstinate mind-set with the strength of a seven-year old chimp-four to eight
times as strong as an adult human-and that is a recipe for trouble, Fouts

Holding the Line

The American Humane Association (AHA), based in Denver, Colorado, is charged
with monitoring the use of animal actors on both television and films sets.
Their famous disclaimer-"No animals were harmed in the making of this
film"-runs in thousands of movie credits.

The AHA Film and Television Office opened in Los Angeles, California, after
a horse was forced to jump off a cliff to its death during the production of
the 1939 film Jesse James. Public outrage spurred the effort to monitor the
industry's use of animals.

According to an agreement signed in 1980, the AHA has the authority to be
present during any production using actors from the Screen Actors Guild
(SAG)-one of two major unions for actors in the United States. "Actors
wanted to ensure that their names were not attached to projects linked to
animal cruelty," said Karen Rosa, director of the AHA's film and television

Many non-SAG productions also invite AHA on set, though there is nothing
requiring them to do so. "Producers are interested in knowing their animals
are protected, because it protects them from bad press," Rosa said. She
estimates that in 2003 AHA monitored about 21 of the 35 projects in
television and film that employed great apes.

"We don't cover reality shows. There are sometimes problems with those,"
Rosa said. Talk shows, soap operas, and photo shoots are also generally
unsupervised, as are many commercials.

If the AHA is brought on set, they inspect facilities where animals are
housed and keep an eye on stunts to make sure animals are not injured or
abused. "If we have verifiable proof of cruelty, we will go to courts and
push for prosecution," Rosa said.

However, AHA influence does not extend beyond the set. They have no
oversight during the years of training that animals undergo prior to
stepping in front of the camera. No one does. That means a film with the AHA
stamp of approval might involve animals treated humanely on set after years
of painful training, according to Rosa.

"We would love to be in a position to certify training compounds, recommend
some while blacklisting others, but we don't have the funding or the
jurisdiction," Rosa said.

Learning How Not to Be a Chimp

Rosa argues that training methods have improved dramatically over the last
20 years. The use of positive reinforcement has become widely utilized,
spurred by a growing, society-wide concern for animal welfare both in
captivity and in the wild.

"We believe many of the trainers working in the film industry today use
humane training methods. But some still use negative reinforcement. We don't
deny that," Rosa said. Negative reinforcement involves punishing animals
with physical pain or deprivation if they don't perform correctly. "Its a
legitimate problem that needs to be addressed."

The Chimpanzee Collaboratory estimates that of the 2,600 captive chimpanzees
in the United States, 200 are used in the entertainment industry. About 60
are kept in the major training compounds used regularly by the industry. Of
those, 20 are "stars" that are in constant demand.

During the 11 months the Chimpanzee Collaboratory's Baeckler spent working
in a training facility in Los Angeles, she saw chimpanzees routinely hit if
they became distracted or didn't perform a trick correctly. "It is naive to
assume that chimpanzees can be compelled to perform complex tricks over and
over again with simple positive reinforcements like a jelly bean."

Chimp Social Security

"The chimpanzees we see used in entertainment are generally youngsters. Once
they reach puberty at six to eight years old, they become increasingly
difficult to handle," Goodall said. That's when most are retired from
showbiz. However, they can live to age 60 in captivity.

An adult chimp can cost U.S. $10,000 per year to keep housed and fed-a price
that becomes unacceptable to most owners once an animal stops generating

A lucky few wind up in sanctuaries like the Center for Captive Chimpanzee
Care, which lies outside Fort Pierce, Florida, and is run by primatologist
Carole Noon. "Other retired chimps are kept in cages by their trainers to be
used as breeders, or they're sold to roadside zoos," said Noon.

Under U.S. federal regulations it is legal to keep an adult chimpanzee alone
in a cage that measures 5 by 5 by 7 feet (1.5 by 1.5 by 2 meters) for the
remainder of its natural life.

"There have been remarkable advances in computer graphics, animation, and
robotics, so the film and television industries have viable alternatives to
the use of great apes," Goodall said. But using those technologies can cost
far more than hiring a live animal. Which means for now, animal actors are
still in high demand.

the wild, cruel beast is not behind the bars of the cage. he is in front of it - axel munthe

"Never doubt that a small group of dedicated citizens can change the world. 
Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."      Margaret Mead
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