At work I found this card from a company called Borealis. I’m the card buyer, meaning, I get to choose what cards we sell, and our cards happen to be in the top 5 of our best-selling products. I care about that because the store is one of two locations, a real mom and pop organization, and the owners are good people who care about this planet and the living beings in it. Many customers come to our store just for the cards, because they’re unique. Most of the cards I choose have pictures of animals on them, or inspirational quotes.
So I took a picture of this card and sent it to my sister:
It seems like a sweet card, with a sweet message. Who doesn’t love a baby animal?
But it turns out that chimpanzees get taken from their mothers to be pets, or to work in the entertainment industry. No chimp mother would allow this picture to be taken, because she wouldn’t allow humans to take her baby away. So that means this baby was forced from her mother for this picture, so we could look at it and say, Oh, how adorable. When the chimp becomes five or six years old, they become too much for people to handle, so people will abuse them into submission, or else dump them at a roadside zoo, euthanize them, or, if they’re lucky, they end up in a sanctuary.
The only reason I know this is because my sister worked for years at a chimpanzee sanctuary that housed chimps who’d been in the entertainment industry, who were sent or rescued to live at the sanctuary because people had no use for them anymore. These particular chimps lived an unnatural life without their families, and were often abused, used for humans’ entertainment in movies. So when you see a chimp in a movie and think that’s cute, it’s actually really not that cute or sweet at all. This card is the same way. People profit from this, and consumers don’t even realize it. It seems benign enough.
I like what Planet of the Apes does, in that it reverses the roles of humans and chimps so that we can get a better idea of the chimp’s perspective. Here’s a clip from the original movie:
We cannot communicate in the same language with other species. We try to interpret what they do, but we can’t really know. We can guess but we can’t know what they’re saying to each other because we’re not them, we’re not in their heads. I’m pretty sure when a dog wags his tail, he’s happy. But what about the gray areas? One time, I was at a pool party where some people thought it was funny to watch their dog get thrown in the pool and swim frantically back to the steps. I thought that the dog was scared, because I for one would not like getting thrown into a pool. Maybe someone else thinks it’s fun, and they love getting thrown in the water. How can you know for sure?
This baby chimp may love this puppy, but what else is going on?
Animals have emotions, that much I know. When I was little, when I was sad I would cry outside in the side yard, by the carport, and my cat would always come up to me and rub his head on my knees. Maybe he just wanted to be petted, but it sure seemed like he knew I was sad, and he was offering his love. It certainly made me feel better.
This post was not meant to be a downer, to make anyone feel guilty for enjoying a sweet photo of a baby chimp and a puppy. But it’s just to open your eyes and see that those cute chimps you see in the movies aren’t necessarily happy chimps who live extraordinary lives of leisure, but are rather more like property used and abused for human entertainment and ultimately for profit.
Though I’d love to pretend I don’t know about this, and continue going on my way saying positive affirmations and what-not, the truth is that this happens. While I’m probably not going to march in the streets, there are a few easy things I can do, and you can do too:
- Don’t buy a card like this, or watch/pay for a movie in which chimpanzees play a part. This is an easy one. Just don’t spend money on something that profits people who use and abuse animals.
- If you can afford it, contribute to a chimpanzee sanctuary, or to an animal welfare organization of your choice. Last year I donated to the Audubon Society in honor of my mom, who loved owls. This year I’ll contribute to a cause dedicated to chimpanzees, after watching Planet of the Apes and learning more about these guys. I don’t make much money, but I can give a few dollars.
- Let others know that this is happening. It doesn’t have to be a shaming game in which we all sit around feeling guilty for enjoying a sweet picture of a baby chimp. We’re just educating ourselves. I didn’t know this happened, and now I do. Now I can choose to do something about it, like write this blog post, and not buy the card, or even distribute information.
- Write to those in the industry and ask that they not do contribute to this. Not everyone knows this is happening. Borealis probably just thought the baby chimp holding a puppy was a sweet card, as I did.
Like I said, I don’t want to be a downer, but at the same time, I believe it’s important to face the truth and do something about it, in whatever small way we can.
A guy I know said that he found it difficult to watch the movie, because he could not get past the fact that not only do the apes speak, but to him they just look ugly. That made me sad, because I feel that the whole point of Planet of the Apes is to humanize apes so we can see them as emotional, sentient beings. You can replace them with dogs, some fictional alien creatures, or even just as someone who’s a different race or nationality than we are. We are all living beings, worthy of love. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I thought the apes were sweet and beautiful, and I wanted to hug and kiss them, which is generally how I feel about most furry or feathered animals, even when I see a cow or a goat on the side of a country road. Not everyone wants to smooch every deer they pass on the side of the road—I get it. But for me, I just love animals. That doesn’t mean I don’t also love humans. I find humans and human nature fascinating, and I like to be part of a community and have friends. At the same time, animals represent unconditional love. Like puppies. Is there a puppy out there who does not reflect pure love?
I’ll close with a few facts I learned about chimpanzees:
- Chimps share 99% of our DNA. Chimps are closer genetically to humans than they are to gorillas.
- Chimpanzees are endangered in the wild.
- Baby chimps stay with their mothers until they’re five or six, and many maintain close relationships with their mothers throughout their lifetime.
- When baby chimps get taken from their mothers in infancy, they develop behavioral problems.
- More information on apes in entertainment here. And even more information on apes in entertainment here.
So please think about this the next time you see an ape in a television commercial, or a movie, or in a greeting card. What seems so cute and innocent is not that way. Again, I don’t mean to shame or blame anyone, or make us all sit around feeling angry, sad, and helpless. Just know that you don’t have to participate in it, and you can actually do something about it. Maybe you and I can’t change the world singlehandedly, but together we can help make it a better place.
Peace and love,
PS: The animals in Planet of the Apes are played by humans, so they’re not actual apes being abused for entertainment.
PSS: It’s a bad idea to try and hug a chimpanzee, or any other wild animal. Did you ever see that documentary “Grizzly Man?” Good movie, good man, good intentions. Terrible, terrible idea.