Last year, Dr. Jane Goodall and the Jane Goodall Institute weighed in on a popular social media post which was making the rounds: a young chimpanzee scrolling on a cellphone. Though some thought the intent was good – demonstrating that chimpanzees are highly intelligent – the result and the backstory of this individual chimpanzee were far more tragic and showcased a growing problem of inappropriate great ape representation on social media.
“I am very disappointed to see the inappropriate portrayal of a juvenile chimpanzee in this video which is currently circulating on social media. Chimpanzees are highly social animals, very intelligent and have complex emotions like humans – it is imperative that we portray them appropriately and that they receive the best possible care in captive environments. Portraying chimpanzees in this way on social media is also perpetuating the illegal pet trade in great apes, and as they cannot be domesticated, interactions with humans as displayed by this video are highly dangerous, as well as harmful to the well-being of the chimpanzee. As responsible and compassionate individuals, I hope anyone who sees the video will not like, share or comment on it and all responsible media outlets change the coverage of the video to highlight stories of chimpanzees in wild or responsible captive care. And I hope and urge the people who have chimpanzees in their care will cease use of him in this way and join those of us who are working to end the cruel treatment of chimpanzees in entertainment. “
– Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, UN Messenger of Peace and Founder of the Jane Goodall Institute
There are several reasons why the video and others like it are highly problematic. This year, Jane had this to say about the issue:
“Used wisely social media can be a force for good. In many ways it can connect us with the natural world and bring greater understanding of chimpanzees and the other amazing animals who inhabit this planet. And it can also inform us about the urgent need to protect them and their habitats. On the other hand, some of the material shared on social media – ‘cute’ infant chimpanzees dressed in human clothes; selfies with various wild animals, and other animals forced to perform for ‘entertainment’. All animals should be treated with respect and there should be nothing in social media to encourage people to buy wild animals as pets or to think that animals used in entertainment are ‘happy’. Please help us share the message that many animals, including chimpanzees and other apes, are endangered in the wild and we should share nothing online that might give a boost to the illegal wildlife trade.”– Dr. Jane Goodall
First, they promote inappropriate handling by humans. Second, they contribute to larger threats to great apes (both captive and in the wild). With some digging and collaborative research, JGI global chapters have turned our attention to growing awareness around the harm of this kind of content. Through our ForeverWild global campaign, we hope to help animal lovers understand how they can promote GOOD content that helps great apes, and help dismantle social media content systems that HARM great apes. Here’s some background:
1) The video from last year is likely a chimpanzee from Myrtle Beach Safari which has used chimpanzees inappropriately in the past. Other videos featuring a chimpanzee named Limbani, show how chimpanzees are continuously inappropriately handled and showcased on social media through establishments like “Zoological Wildlife Foundation.” This includes questionable displays of their animals across social media and allowing influencers to take Limbani to their homes, or for the public to play with Limbani for money.
- Learn more about this particular chimpanzee and issue here.
- For an article by the Dodo about this exact issue and facility from 2018, read more here.
Why is this a problem?
- Chimpanzees ARE NOT pets. Content like this perpetuates the extremely dangerous idea that chimpanzees make cute “pets”. Despite potentially benign intentions, it is part of the larger issue of social media videos and posts of this kind driving the illegal trade in chimpanzees and other great apes as pets. This is not only causing them great individual suffering as they are often not cared for properly and then abandoned but is also stealing great apes (which are endangered) from the wild. 3,000 great apes are stolen from the wild every year (GRASP). For more examples of how the internet and social media are perpetuating the illegal sale of primates and killing/poaching them from the wild, and what many in the conservation and tech community are doing to improve tracking and reporting, read more here and here.
You can learn more about our work in the Republic of Congo with our Tchimpounga sanctuary to take in rescued orphan chimpanzees and end the illegal wildlife trade in great apes. Many of the chimpanzees at Tchimpounga were orphaned as poachers shot their mothers to take the babies for the illegal pet trade. There are nearly 140 rescued chimps at the facility, and it is only one of many across Africa, evidence of how wide spread this horrific and growing issue is.
- Chimpanzees require socialization with other chimpanzees. In many videos, these individual chimps are not with other chimpanzees. Chimpanzees are extremely social and require a chimpanzee community or at least company in order to be psychologically well. He is often also dressed in clothing, interacting with humans, all to promote the brand of this influencer and this establishment. All of these conditions are certainly harmful to the long term psychological and physical needs of this young chimpanzee.
- Chimpanzees (and all great ape species) are endangered and could become extinct in our lifetime. Content like this perpetuates the idea that chimpanzees are not endangered (look they’re cute and fun!). If we don’t get people to understand the threats to chimpanzees in the wild and captivity, all the likes on social media will outnumber how many are alive in the future.
- Humans SHOULD NEVER closely interact with chimpanzees and other great apes (with exceptions for experts and professionals). It also promotes the idea that humans can handle chimpanzees and other wildlife. This is very untrue and very dangerous, as humans and chimpanzees are so biologically similar, we can spread disease to one another very easily. Chimpanzees also grow to be larger, stronger and potentially aggressive – putting humans and chimpanzees in danger. We cannot let examples of this lead the public to interact with wildlife/captive animals in this manner – only experts and professionals should be handling chimpanzees.
- The behavior demonstrated would not be considered a natural behavior for wild infant chimpanzees. Play and tool use, as Dr. Goodall discovered, is common in chimpanzees – but in the case of chimpanzees in inappropriate captive environments being introduced to behaviors they would not typically demonstrate, there is a large amount of research around how that may cause detrimental long-term effects to the individual animal.
These platforms have very large audiences, and what we represent and share can have wide spread and terrible consequences. We have the choice to be responsible in the way we portray non-human animals (captive and in the wild) and how we promote good content, or remove and/or not promote problematic content. If you care about chimpanzees, as many people interacting with this content likely do, you can do something about it. Each of us has the ability to use the power of liking and sharing #APEpropriate content to show others how wonderful and deserving of respect great apes are.
Want to support the care of rescued chimpanzees at Tchimpounga? Learn how here.
The Jane Goodall Institute is a global community conservation organization that advances the vision and work of Dr. Jane Goodall. By protecting chimpanzees and inspiring people to conserve the natural world we all share, we improve the lives of people, animals and the environment. Everything is connected—everyone can make a difference.