Dawn of a New Ape Era?
An Animal Rights Article from All-Creatures.org

FROM

Jill Howard Church, Animals and Society Institute (ASI)
July 2014

The film makes clear how unjustly apes have been treated, and questions whether acts of violence can or should be forgiven. Perhaps the "do unto others" message from the film will be a reminder that not only do humans and other apes share an ancestry, we share a future, too.

I just saw the new "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" movie, and it has a lot to say about blurring the lines between humans and (other) apes. The plot picks up 10 years after the original film, in which we met a young chimpanzee named Caesar who was not only taught to use American Sign Language but also acquired the ability to speak.

ape primates

The new film finds Caesar and a large community of chimps, gorillas and orangutans living in a northern California forest after a "simian flu" virus spreads from a primate laboratory into the global human population with disastrous results.

The film has good guys and bad guys of all species, but those who understand what chimpanzees have gone through in real-life laboratories can sympathize with a chimp character named Koba, whose torture at the hands of humans turns him into a vengeful villain. The story is made all the more poignant by the fact that the apes are portrayed by human actors whose movements and facial expressions have been digitally enhanced, lending a subtle interspecies quality to their characters.

But while the "Planet of the Apes" film saga continues, there is better news for real chimps right now. As of June 18, the last of the 110 chimps held at the New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana have been transferred to the Chimp Haven sanctuary. Their release began in 2012 after the CHIMP Act was signed into law by President Obama in 2011. The chimps range in age from 1 to 50, and include multiple generations from the same family. It took a lot of fundraising and construction to make room for so many more primates at the facility, but they are safe at last. Hundreds of chimpanzees still languishing in other laboratories are not yet so fortunate.

As always, there's more work to be done. There is new momentum to get the U.S. Congress to pass the Captive Primate Safety Act (S. 1463/H. R. 2856), which would prohibit interstate commerce in monkeys, apes and other nonhuman primates for the exotic pet trade. With many thousands of monkeys and apes still being kept in private homes, there remains the potential for tragedies such as that experienced by Charla Nash, the woman whose face and hands were torn apart by an escaped "pet" chimpanzee in Connecticut in 2009. Even she, during testimony in Washington, D.C., last week, noted that both she and Travis the chimp (who was shot to death by police) were victims of lax laws allowing private primate ownership.

Unlike the "Planet of the Apes" movie characters, those primates will never take up arms and avenge their mistreatment. But the film makes clear how unjustly apes have been treated, and questions whether acts of violence can or should be forgiven. Perhaps the "do unto others" message from the film will be a reminder that not only do humans and other apes share an ancestry, we share a future, too. The next installment of that real-life drama remains unwritten.


Jill Howard Church is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and editor who specializes in animal issues. She is currently Managing Editor of AV Magazine for the American Anti-Vivisection Society (AAVS) and the President of GAveg, The Vegetarian Society of Georgia.


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