Movie star monkeys fuel illegal pet trade, academic says

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An image of chimps

The use of monkeys in movies and television shows is fuelling the illegal trade in the animals for pets, according to a University of Stirling academic.

Conservation Psychologist, Lesley Elizabeth Craig, warned that, while computer-generated imagery is good enough to create realistic animals on screen, many filmmakers are still employing monkeys in films. She lists recent Hollywood blockbusters, The Hangover Part II; The Wolf of Wall Street; and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales; among those to have used primate actors.

Writing in The Conversation, she says: “Regardless of how these animals are treated on set, the reality is that they’re being placed in unnatural environments and made to act for other people’s amusement against their will.

“What’s more, there’s evidence that using real primates on screen actually encourages the illegal pet trade. It’s estimated that more than 3,000 great apes and hundreds of thousands of other primates are traded as pets and bush meat each year.”

Ms Craig, of the Faculty of Natural Sciences, cited recent research which found that 70 movies released between 1990 and 2013 had used primate actors – with chimpanzees, capuchins and old-world monkeys the most commonly used.

“The study found that more than half the time they were shown among people, dressed up and performing human actions,” she explained. “It also found that primates on screen were ‘smiling’ 19 per cent of the time, something that primatologists widely recognise as an expression of fear or submission.”

The PhD researcher added: “The study concluded that using primates in filmmaking compromised their welfare by removing them from their social groups, training them to perform unnatural actions, and denying them the opportunity to behave naturally.

“All of these things have lasting negative psychological and physical effects on primates.”

Read the full Conversation article here.

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