Domesticated Chimps on TV Makes Light of Their Endangered Existence

For years, the media industry has argued that, by using chimps in media, people would become more sensitive to their endangerment and the plight of their existence. A recent survey took a look at this theory to uncover the truth.

A team of primatologists and a marketing professor at Duke University showed 165 participants videos chimpanzees. Participants were separated into three different groups. One group was shown a conservation message about chimps. The second group was shown clips of chimps in their natural habitat. A third group saw chimps dressed as humans in ads that were intended to be humorous. All three groups were surveyed after their viewing to see if their attitude about conservation had been altered.

“We were testing the argument that the entertainment industry has made that exposure to chimpanzees in human settings makes people more sympathetic to their plight,” stated Brian Hare, assistant professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke. “In fact, the opposite is true. We found people became less concerned about the risks chimpanzees face after they’d seen the entertainment clips.”

Participants were also given the opportunity to either purchase a product that had been seen in one of the commercials or contribute to a conservation fund for chimpanzees. Participants that viewed the entertainment chimps were less likely to donate money to the conservation fund.

 “Nobody has measured this sort of thing before, but it clearly shows that the portrayal of endangered species on television can alter viewers’ behaviors and decrease one’s willingness to donate. This is a clear indication that we need to reevaluate media practices and conservation priorities,” said graduate student Kara Schroepfer who also helped with the study.

Another issue is that entertainment chimps are usually smaller, younger. This creates a problem all its own. As chimps become larger, they become more difficult to handle, sometimes even dangerous. Yet, because people equate chimps with the cute and cuddly monkeys they see on the screen, they assume that they make great pets. Nothing could be further from the truth. “We can’t say it enough: chimpanzees are not pets,” said Hare.

My husband’s parents raised monkeys and while I laugh at many of the stories he tells me, others are downright frightening. I have heard him say the same thing about chimps; they are wild animals. They are not intended to be pets.