Let’s say you’re out with friends at the local traveling fair over the weekend, enjoying the sunshine and the thrill of the rides. But then you pass a tent with a chimpanzee. Just $10 for a photo of you two together. Seems harmless enough. Who wouldn’t want to spend time with a chimpanzee up close and personal and have a photo to document the experience?
It may seem like fun on the surface, but not for the animals involved. Most wildlife used in the tourist photo prop industry are taken from their homes and sold and then confined to a tiny cage, only leaving when it’s time for people to gawk at them.
Whether kept in zoos, as pets, or for biomedical research, chimpanzees suffer immensely in captivity. In captivity, chimpanzees lack the chance to solve problems, socialize with family members, travel distances or forage for their own food. They also frequently exhibit signs of stress including over-grooming on arms and legs, continual rocking, spitting, and throwing feces.
We are often sold images of happy primates, grinning in front of large audiences – but what many people don’t realize is that while these animals share a lot in common with people, smiling isn’t one of them. Primates bear their teeth when they are scared or nervous, so this display is often one of distress, not pleasure.
There are countless advocates fighting for clear up these misunderstandings about primates to help convince the public not to support these sort of shows. Paul Hilton is a conservation photographer who is working to these ends. Hilton uses his powerful photography to remind people that while it can seem almost impossible that our actions can have an impact on animals across the globe, just one look at the traumatized face of this chimpanzee says otherwise.
“Some images stay with me and after several years this image still has the power to resonate all the suffering that animals have to go through in the name of entertainment. The world is waking up to the fact that we can not continue to treat animals in this way, but far too slowly,” Hilton noted in the Instagram post alongside the photo.
In the human world, we are taught from a young age that to stare at others is considered rude. We also know that being stared at – particularly by someone we don’t know or perhaps don’t get along with – can make us feel uncomfortable, threatened or scared. Despite recognizing that being watched or stared at is usually an uncomfortable experience for people, for centuries, people have placed animals in zoos and in other types of captivity for the specific purpose of being watched.
In the wild, our closest primate relatives live in diverse social groups where they play, travel and interact with one another. According to the Jane Goodall Institute, chimpanzees develop lifelong family bonds, and mothers and their young (up to age seven) are inseparable. They often travel several miles in one day, they make and use tools, they communicate with one another and they choose their friends with care. They also forage for different foods, groom themselves and others, play with children and friends and even take naps. Just like people, chimps are emotionally and intellectually complex beings – but all of that is stripped away when these animals are captured and forced into an often solitary life in captivity.
Time and time again, we have seen examples of captive chimpanzees asking to be freed. In a video filmed at a zoo in Wales, UK, in 2012, a chimpanzee is seen apparently signaling for the visitor filming to open the door of his enclosure. The video went viral and was described as “heartbreaking.” In 2015, video footage was taken of a gorilla charging the glass wall of his enclosure in a zoo in Omaha, apparently in response to young visitors attempting to attract his attention. The heavy glass wall can be seen cracking as the silverback makes contact. Knowing all that we know about these amazing animals, we have to ask ourselves, should we really be holding these beings in captivity?
No animals should have to suffer for the sake of our entertainment. Instead, hop on a boat and take a whale tour, grab a pair of binoculars and go birding, visit a sanctuary, volunteer at a wildlife refuge, or simply take a hike! There are so many ways to experience wildlife, in the wild!
To learn more about Paul Hilton and the amazing work he has done, click here.
Image source: Paul Hilton/Instagram