Chimpanzees in Entertainment

Just like humans, we can see chimpanzees in television shows, commercials and in movies; however unlike humans who freely choose to go into this profession, the chimpanzees do not. Many of us have seen chimps in television shows, commercials, and movies. Think back, how many times have you laughed when you saw a chimp dressed up in human clothes doing human activities? I can guess that it has been more than once. Chimpanzees have been used in the entertainment industry for decades, and while you usually associate acting with a life of luxury, the life of a chimp actor is anything but luxurious.

Most chimpanzees start their acting career when they are infants. Infant chimpanzees are taken from their mother only a few days after birth, and become dependent on humans. This makes the chimpanzees easier to train and handle, however, trainers also take additional steps to ensure obedience from their young performers. These can include pulling the chimpanzee’s teeth out so that they cannot retaliate through biting, and using punishment to train the chimpanzees faster. Trainers will beat the chimpanzee until it has learned the correct behaviors.  Also, most people assume that the chimps enjoy working in show business.  We have all seen them “smiling” at the camera, seemingly having fun with their trainer.  However, most of us don’t know that that smile is a display of fear in chimpanzees, not a sign of happiness. 


A career in the entertainment business does not last very long for a chimpanzee.  Many chimpanzees reach puberty at the ages of 6 to 8 years old.  It is about this time that the chimps become harder to train and are retired from show business. Yet, their life in retirement is often as bad if not worse than their life in entertainment. Zoos often will not take human raised chimpanzees so most are killed, while others are given to research companies to be used in medical research. Some chimpanzees find themselves at roadside zoos when they must entertain local tourists. Only a few chimpanzees are lucky enough to be taken to a chimp sanctuary, where they can spend the rest of their lives in relative comfort. 



Message from CAC'ers


We hope this all sounds as terrible to you as it does to us.  But if you are not convinced try looking at it from the chimpanzee’s point of view.  How would you feel if you were taken away from your mother when you were only a baby, beaten extensively until you learned to do the correct behaviors, and then when you got too old to perform anymore, sold to either roadside zoos or labs where you would become test subjects for research?  If you felt like this was a horrible way to live for a human being, then it must be horrible for our closest relatives  as well; no animal should have to go through this much hardship only to entertain us.



Content provided by Canisius College students under the direction of Michael Noonan, PhD.