These days there is a lot of controversy in Spain because of the TV program “Vaya Fauna” in Telecinco, in which captive non-domestic animals show their abilities. Leaving aside the training methods that suffer these animals, like in a previous post by Marc Arenas, Reasons to watch marine mammals in captivity (or maybe not), in this post we will talk about the consequences of keeping primates in captivity, especially great apes, and what is in your hands to preserve your closest relatives, all of them endangered.
MONKEYS SEEM HAPPY INTERACTING WITH US
Surely you’ve ever been to the zoo and have observed human behavior mockery to chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans. People laughing, pounding his chest, imitating vocalizations. They are responded by chimpanzees, so we believe is an imitation game.
Humans have a tendency to humanize everything, that is, to perceive the reactions of others as human beings, which is not usually related. In the primate communication, the look is very powerful, sometimes intimidating. Who does not look the other way in the elevator when we are with a neighbor? This also happens with gorillas: staring look into their eyes is to them an aggression, so you can suppose the stress of feeling threatened by hundreds of visitors at a zoo watching at you every day. What we interpret as a smile, in which the animal bares his teeth, is actually a gesture of fear or tension. What we interpret as a game or insult, like throwing feces against the glass, it is also a sign of discomfort and stress.
The typical gesture of striking the breast, it is actually a demonstration of strength and health, which can lead to tense situations such as that experienced by this family at the zoo in Omaha when her daughter beat his chest in front of a silverback (male gorilla):
IN ZOOS THE FACILITIES ARE MORE NATURALIZED NOWADAYS
It is true that the trend in zoos is increasingly to mimic the conditions that they could have in nature, with green spaces, logs or ropes to climb, according to species. But primates enjoy these conditions a few hours a day, specifically when zoos are open to the public. At night or in adverse weather conditions, many zoo animals live in cages smaller than the display area without any natural setting.
Most great apes are social and have well-established group hierarchies in nature. In captivity, family groups tend to be artificial because the animals are from different origins, in addition to cases where there is overcrowding (too animals in the same facility) or they are kept isolated in cages with tiny dimensions. In case of conflict within a group, animals do not have enough space to keep their distance and avoid future tensions.
They are also deprived of natural behaviors such as foraging. In the case of lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla), they can travel several kilometers a day searching for food (mainly shoots, but also fruit and some insects) and never sleep two consecutive nights in the same place. Enrichment plans in zoo are essential to occupy their free time available.
Inappropriate behavior of some visitors does the rest (hitting glass, shouts, pictures with flash, food, excessive influx of public …).
IT HAS EDUCATIONAL AND CONSERVATIONAL VALUE
As in the case of marine mammals, investigations in captive primates do not allow reliable conclusions about the biology and behavior of animals due to the artificial conditions in which they live. In zoos, primates are not animals used in performances or in educational visits to the general public, in other centers, the information given about them is poor and biased in favor of the show or simple display of the animal to the public. The reintroduction of primates in the wild is very complex. The captive breeding programs that are implemented increasingly in zoos for conservation reasons, often produce animals for exhibition and not to release into the natural environment, for lack of means or interest.
THEY ARE ADORABLE AS PETS
The fact that an animal may seem to us nice-looking or share more than 90% of genes with us, does not mean that it will have same needs. These needs usually are not known by people who acquire a primate as a pet, causing them health problems both physical and psychological, including death.
Most come from illegal trade, which means that to capture a baby, hunters have to kill several members of its family, especially in the case of great apes that will protect their offspring to death.
The most famous orphan primate was undoubtedly Snowflake, the only albino gorilla known to date. In this case, his entire family was murdered in 1966 by entering banana and coffee plantations in the jungle of Nko, Equatorial Guinea. Snowflake was sold to Jordi Sabater Pi by 15,000 pesetas in Barcelona and was raised in an apartment in the first 11 months. Then was moved to Barcelona Zoo where he became a symbol of the city and lived there the rest of his life.
Small primates are also victims of illegal trade, which has increased because of the presence of videos on the Internet about how “adorable” are marmosets or loris (Nycticebus) according to a study published in PLoS ONE. Besides many species are endangered, as we saw in a previous post slow lorises are the only poisonous primate in the world, so they are mutilated without anesthesia (they cut them teeth, claws…) before sale, which provoke sometimes deadly infections. The study found only in Indonesia 15,000 loris enter the illegal market per year, not counting those who die before. To that evidence must be added the death of the mother and/or entire families. They are sold with a few months of life, when in the wild spend the first 14 months with its mother, so their emotional and nutritional needs will never be covered.
It is estimated that the illegal trade in wildlife is worth more than 19 billion dollars annually, equivalent or above the illegal trade in drugs and weapons. In addition to pets, many primates living in zoos come from seizures, like Coco gorilla at Barcelona Zoo.
The Primates order is protected by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), so trade is banned or highly regulated. In Spain for example, they can’t be kept in particular installations.
THEY ARE VERY SMART AND CAN DO THINGS LIKE US
Another clear case of humanization is forcing primates to represent situations taking them as natural and easy to learn for them, like walking upright, cycling and other stunts that are fortunately seen less and less in circuses, movies, commercials or sets of TV.
We have already discussed the origin and living conditions (often unhealthy) of these animals. We won’t go into detail about how they are trained, based on negative reinforcement (deprivation of food, company, beatings, imprisonment…) or stress levels to which they are subjected between spotlights, people and noise. Primatologist Sarah Baeckler conducted a study in 2002 on the status and conditions of these animals. What happens to them when they do not serve to act? They are abandoned, and in lucky cases recovered in sanctuaries or recovery centers, such as Mona Foundation in Catalunya or the Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center, the largest sanctuary for chimpanzees in Africa promoted by Dr. Jane Goodall. This video of the emotional release and history of the chimpanzee Wounda by Rebecca Atencio and Jane Goodall went viral:
CONSEQUENCES BEFORE AND AFTER THE “FAME”
Chimpanzees are the most commonly apes used for this kind of shows. According to studies, such as the one by the University of Kent (2011), primates end with psychological problems such as:
- Self harm and mutilation
- Bone fractures and wounds
- Psychomotor deficit
- Development problems
- Abnormal behaviors such as ingestion of feces and urine
- Repetitive movements with no function (stereotyping)
- Decreased gestures to communicate with each other
- Social phobia, fear, agoraphobia (phobia of open spaces and agglomerates
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Inability to its development in conditions of freedom
So they have the same consequences as any human can suffer in the same situation. We share 96.9% of our DNA with orangutans, 98.4% with gorillas, 98.8% with chimpanzees and 99.9% with other humans.
Rehabilitation and socialization, it is not impossible in some cases, but it takes years and thousands of euros of effort, which does not justify its use in shows or keeping them as pets.
WHAT CAN YOU DO FOR PRIMATE CONSERVATION?
In June 2015, after years of struggle by Jane Goodall and other institutions, captive chimpanzees enjoy the same protection in the wild USA, they are considered endangered. Two chimpanzees have also been recognized as legal persons in court on his compulsory detention. Primatologists agree that the intelligence of a chimpanzee is equivalent to a 4 years old child and the debate is still alive on the inclusion of the great apes on Human Rights. Something is changing in consideration of our closest relatives, but is still clearly insufficient. What it is in your hands?
- Learn and share with your children, family and acquaintances capabilities and problems of these wonderful animals.
- Do not buy or accept a primate as a gift or souvenirs made from them, especially if you are traveling to foreign countries where the sale is cheap and easy. You can go to jail.
- Do not attend circuses or give audience to television programs which use animals and participate in campaigns against it.
- Do not eat primate meat (bushmeat)
- Avoid visiting zoos and other institutions that keep primates in captivity for profit.
- Do not use products tested on animals, especially cosmetics.
- Do not buy tropical wood or seek FSC certification of sustainable logging.
- Extend the life of electronic devices, especially mobile phones and recycle it as coltan and cassiterite it is used for manufacturing it.
- Report illegal wildlife trading
- Make donations to recovery centers or adopt a chimpanzee, also here
- Do not use products with palm oil, responsible for causing the deaths of dozens of orangutans daily.
- Potts, Richard. Sloan, Christopher (2010). What does it mean to be Human? Ed. National Geographic Society.
- Bloom, Steve (1999). Dedicado a los primates. Ed. Köneman Verlagsgesellschaft mbH.
- The Jane Goodall Institute
- Mona Foundation
- Somos Primates
- Proyecto Gran Simio
- Investigación de los zoos en España
- Is it possible to re-socialize abused primates?
- ¿Es verdad que no se debe mirar fijamente a los gorilas?
- Zoo de Barcelona