- I never quite understood the "endangered species" concept. Species come and go, that's Evolution 101 for you. And, some species go because of a new predator that they can't cope with, e.g., man. I am inherently suspicious of an antiquarian mentality that humans are supposed to preserve species as they are today, or even restore them to some older state: if we interfere with evolution, why should it always be to preserve species, and not to cull some of them?
- There are good reasons why we should not want chimpanzees to go extinct, and they have nothing to do with the preservationist imperative. Chimpanzees are our closest relatives, and hence provide an important comparative baseline in studies of human evolution. The study of man and all its intellectual and practical benefits would suffer if there were no chimps around.
- Who decides whether a species is endangered or not? According to the SciAm article, "the global population of wild chimpanzees is only 172,700 to 299,700 individuals." That corresponds to an effective population size well above estimates for the ancestral effective population size of either humans or the common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees.
- It is true that TV and Movies present a distorted picture of chimpanzees. Most chimp appearances make them appear "cute" and "human-like". But, that could be said for nearly every animal on TV. You never see domestic dogs, for example, portrayed as killers on TV, and yet, there are dozens of fatal and many more non-fatal "dog bites man" incidents every year. According to the authors' logic, TV and Movies distort the behavior of dogs, making them appear like "Lassie" when they are in fact are often dangerous animals.
- Nor is it true that if we did not use chimpanzees in TV and Movies we would have an accurate portrayal of them: if you don't watch chimps on TV ads, you will not automatically sit through scientifically-minded documentaries about them. TV and Movies happily portray all sorts of animals, domestic or otherwise in a stereotypical form. Ask a 5-year old whether they like a whole series of animals, and you will get back a whole series of positive and negative stereotypes, some of which go back to Aesop and beyond.
- Should people's exposure to non-human primates in entertainment be limited to CGI creatures like King Kong, the apes in Planet of the Apes, or CGI chimps that will surely take the place of real ones if the use of the latter is outlawed?
- It could be argued that the unprecedented wide-scale breeding and rearing of chimps is the initial stage of a process of domestication of that animal. Surely, early dogs, cats, horses, etc. were dangerous animals compared to modern breeds, but our ancestors did succeed in making them more amenable to human society. Why should it be illegal for people to keep whatever animal they see fit as pets, provided they are (a) not cruel to it, and (b) take proper precautions not to endanger their neighbors?
PLoS ONE 6(10): e26048. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0026048
Use of “Entertainment” Chimpanzees in Commercials Distorts Public Perception Regarding Their Conservation Status
Kara K. Schroepfer et al.
Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) are often used in movies, commercials and print advertisements with the intention of eliciting a humorous response from audiences. The portrayal of chimpanzees in unnatural, human-like situations may have a negative effect on the public's understanding of their endangered status in the wild while making them appear as suitable pets. Alternatively, media content that elicits a positive emotional response toward chimpanzees may increase the public's commitment to chimpanzee conservation. To test these competing hypotheses, participants (n = 165) watched a series of commercials in an experiment framed as a marketing study. Imbedded within the same series of commercials was one of three chimpanzee videos. Participants either watched 1) a chimpanzee conservation commercial, 2) commercials containing “entertainment” chimpanzees or 3) control footage of the natural behavior of wild chimpanzees. Results from a post-viewing questionnaire reveal that participants who watched the conservation message understood that chimpanzees were endangered and unsuitable as pets at higher levels than those viewing the control footage. Meanwhile participants watching commercials with entertainment chimpanzees showed a decrease in understanding relative to those watching the control footage. In addition, when participants were given the opportunity to donate part of their earnings from the experiment to a conservation charity, donations were least frequent in the group watching commercials with entertainment chimpanzees. Control questions show that participants did not detect the purpose of the study. These results firmly support the hypothesis that use of entertainment chimpanzees in the popular media negatively distorts the public's perception and hinders chimpanzee conservation efforts.