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Some portrayals of great apes cause harm

The importance of accurate portrayal

We hope to use the power of social media and digital communications to increase understanding of chimpanzees and other primates, to promote best practices in captive care and help protect species in the wild. Unfortunately many images of great apes and primates are creating misleading and false impressions. Harmful content which inappropriately portrays chimpanzees and great apes makes people wrongly believe these species could be safe to interact with, or suited to human environments, and people stop perceiving them as endangered wildlife. These representations include chimpanzees and other great apes in domestic environments, wearing clothes, performing human-like activities or in close proximity or interacting with people who are not experts. These false impressions not only hurt wild species by normalizing appalling captive care, they create health risks for both wildlife and humans. By promoting these depictions as cute or fun, they boost the illegal poaching and trafficking of infant and juvenile apes, with potentially devastating consequences for wild populations. You can act to help stop the harm to chimpanzees and great apes. Avoid content which portrays chimpanzees and great apes:

Kept as pets, wearing human clothing and/or in a human environment

Great apes should never be kept in private homes as pets.
Wild-caught chimpanzees kept captive in private homes suffer miserable lives. Their basic needs are ignored, they are often restrained, especially as they grow older and stronger, and in attempts at control they may be punished and mutilated.
Prematurely separating an infant from its mother leads to long-term social and psychological damage.

Sadly, many trafficked infants never recover from their capture and the loss of their mother and may not survive to maturity.

Posing as a selfie prop or performing

Great apes should not be used as performers, photo props or actors. Animals intended for performance typically start training as infants, while they are still manageable. Training uses harsh methods and individuals are often kept in isolation. This separation, cruelty and neglect usually leads to long-term social and psychological damage. Once apes reach maturity they may no longer be controllable but they cannot be safely released. They may become chronically isolated, suffer mental illness or become very aggressive.

Chimpanzees don’t smile to indicate happiness – what may look like a human grin is in fact a stress-related grimace.

Touching or interacting with humans, other than professional carers and experts
Great apes are extremely strong and may behave aggressively. Being very genetically similar, humans and great apes may transmit disease, putting both at risk.

Share only positive depictions – see below for more information.

Positive steps

Positive steps

Ways you can help:

  • Like, share, and post GOOD depictions of wildlife. Wild animals are incredible, and sharing beautiful, respectful imagery and content about great apes helps people understand the urgency to protect them.
  • Report harmful content if you see it.
  • Be responsible when you take photos of wildlife (e.g. see National Geographic’s guidance about how to take photos ethically and follow the Wildlife Selfie Code). Hide digital data such as location and time in photos of endangered wildlife you share because sometimes tourists share information on the internet which leads poachers straight to protected wildlife

  • As a tourist, inform yourself about animal welfare and conservation issues and ask questions before visiting wildlife attractions. Online reviews can help identify problems and you can actively choose companies who have improved their policies and practices. Look for institutions which follow best practice, such as IUCN Best Practice Guidelines for Great Ape Tourism.

Read a reflection from Patrick van Veen, JGI Global’s Chair, about how the portrayal of chimpanzees and other great apes in social media can impact their welfare and conservation.

Learn more about how the way wildlife is portrayed can be harmful.

Image supplied by Daniel Stiles.

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