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February 01, 2013

A Super Bowl Without Chimps: It’s About Time

Last week I shared tremendously exciting news that a National Institutes of Health working group made sweeping recommendations to phase out all current biomedical research grants involving chimpanzees in laboratories, to end chimpanzee breeding, and to retire the vast majority of government-owned chimpanzees to sanctuaries. In fact, the first of more than 100 government-owned chimpanzees from New Iberia Research Center arrived days ago at Chimp Haven, the national chimpanzee sanctuary.

DSC_0096_37667(1)
Kathy Milani/The HSUS
Kitty, a chimpanzee at Cleveland Amory Black
Beauty Ranch in Texas.

Now we learn from AdAge that CareerBuilder, a company that for years stubbornly refused to stop its use of chimpanzees in its commercials, is “calling an end to its Super Bowl monkeyshines.” The HSUS welcomes the news that ads with chimps have been benched for this year’s game, and we’re calling on CareerBuilder to make that decision permanent.

Great apes used in advertising, movies, television, photo ops, live performances and similar entertainment activities are typically taken away from their mothers just days after birth – a trauma for the mothers and the babies, who may be psychologically damaged for their entire lives as a consequence of that premature, permanent separation.

Time is money in the production of movies and advertising, so there is an unspoken rule that trainers get the animals to perform correctly in the fewest takes possible. Trainers can use severe discipline and excessive force during pre-production training sessions. Such systematic abuse causes the animals to be constantly anxious and fearful. In fact, a chimpanzee "grin" once cast as a sign of happiness is now rightly recognized as a grimace of fear.

In addition to film, television and advertising, chimpanzee trainers exploit these vulnerable animals by renting them out for children’s birthday parties, conventions, cocktail parties, fairs and other mawkish forms of entertainment. In some places, for a fee, members of the public can handle and pose with a baby chimpanzee. We’ve petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture to put an end to this dangerous practice.

When apes become too large and strong to handle (usually by age 8), they are sometimes given away or sold to unaccredited roadside zoos and other substandard facilities, where they typically spend decades in cages with little enrichment. Some apes are fortunate enough to be retired to reputable sanctuaries such as the Center for Great Apes (a sanctuary that is home to many apes from the entertainment industry). But these sanctuaries take on the enormous financial burden of paying for high quality, lifetime care of the young animals, which add up to a million dollars for each chimpanzee. The entertainment industry squeezes a few years out of these juvenile animals, and then the animal welfare and sanctuary communities have to clean up their mess for decades to come, at an enormous expense.

At this year’s Super Bowl, I won’t be grimacing while watching grimacing chimps during the over-hyped commercials. I hope it stays that way. Chimps should not be conscripted into a life of entertainment, in the home as a pet, or in a lab for invasive experiments. They are endangered in the wild, they are our closest living relatives, and they are conscious and aware creatures who don’t deserve to suffer such forms of frivolous, inhumane treatment and deprivation.

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