By Harley Cabrera
In popular culture, chimps have been getting a bad rep as of late. In 2009, there was a mutual gasp of horror when pictures were released of Charla Nash’s face after a gruesome incident when her best friend’s pet chimp Travis, ate her face. The incident sparked a natural fear of these creatures when the public became aware of their size and capabilities. Previously, they were seen as goofy, friendly, and even bought as pets. However fear of these animals have also made people ignorant to the plight of this endangered species. DisneyNature film Chimpanzee shows the side that is overlooked; how these apes behave in their natural habitats and how they are very human (after all, they share close to 98% of our human genes).
Narrated by Tim Allen [Toy Story and Home Improvement], the film follows the life of a toddler chimp that the film makers named Oscar while out in location. He is abandoned by his mother and family. Recently, abandonment has become a phenomenon not just in the wild but also in captivity. NBC reported that 20% of mother chimps abandon their newborns or toddlers. And like human babies, they are unable to take care of themselves because they haven’t learned the proper survivals skills that mothers usually teach them at this stage. Although most toddler chimps aren’t so lucky, in the film Oscar is adopted by a senior chimp named Freddy.
Chimpanzee is a film for all ages and a great way to introduce and learn about a species that could very well only exist in captivity in few years. Due to commercial hunting for bushmeat and deforestation, their habitats are being destroyed, and according to the WWF [World Wildlife Foundation], chimpanzees have been wiped out from 4 African countries and the numbers continue to rise. DisneyNature, aware of the dwindling species has decided to donate $0.20 of every ticket sold to Jane Goodall’s institute “See Chimpanzee, Save Chimpanzee” program that spread awareness about the species and helps protect their habitats.
Jane Goodall traded in her khakis for a dress and attended the premiere of Chimpanzee in Orlando, Florida. The film which took four years to make, was supported by Goodall who vehemently protests the keeping of apes as pets and hopes to show the public that their home and nature is to be in the wild. In fact because of her institution and the Travis the Chimp incident, the Captive Primate Safety Act was introduced in 2009. The bill prohibited wild life species to be purchased or sold through interstate and foreign sales. In addition, 20 states including The District of Columbia have enforced laws banning primates as pets. Although this bill was heavily promoted by not only conservations and animal rights groups , but also by major publications such as Newsday and The New York Times advocated. The bill however was not taken up by US Senate.
By watching Chimpanzee a percentage of your ticket will be going to a great cause that can help save a species. More active participation is needed to help spread awareness of these creatures. For those that remain, in captivity and in the limited wild, there are still that remain as pets against their nature and even more that are being used in medical research. Rise of the Planet of the Apes that came out last year also brought awareness to the pet trade and experimentation on these animals. People still tend to underestimate the power of a film’s message. Through this medium it is the hope of filmmakers and those who support their vision (and my hope) that environmentally conscious messages spark activism in us.