Joint Statement on “Wonderful Friends” a Reality Show Promoting Unnatural Contact Between People and Captive Great Apes

24th Mar 2015 Featured, Press Releases

We are writing to express our deep concern with regard to the television program, ‘Wonderful Friends,’ a reality show promoting close and unnatural contact between people and captive chimpanzees, orangutans, elephants, lions and other dangerous exotic animals. The program causes us concern on many grounds, including the detrimental welfare of the animals, the promotion of misleading messages on wildlife conservation, and the potential threat to public safety. We respectfully request the immediate cancellation of the program and a halt to the production of similar programs.

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Animal Welfare

In order to create entertaining story lines, the animals are placed in potentially stressful and harmful situations that wildlife experts believe are contrary to their natural behavior. On several occasions, the animals appear visibly distressed, particularly when handled by inexperienced personnel. In one episode, an infant chimpanzee was brought to “re-unite” with his father, who had never met the infant before. Male chimpanzees often display aggressive tendencies toward strangers, and the adult male in the program was seen violently throwing rocks at the chimpanzee infant, who was clearly upset.

Primates have an extended juvenile period to develop the necessary social skills they require throughout their lives. Prolonged isolation from fellow primates and extensive exposure to human trainers disrupts this natural process.

This often results in socially maladjusted animals, who may be difficult to resocialize because they lack normal behavioral skills. This is particularly serious in the case of chimpanzees and orangutans, because infant apes used in entertainment are deprived of normal infancy and juvenility, and then are often “retired” after puberty, with many decades of solitary adult life ahead. This program popularizes live animal performance that can inflict considerable and lasting harm on the animals. It could further cause the viewing public, particularly young children, to become insensitive to the physical and psychological pains of these animals.

Promotion of Wildlife Trade

Many animals used in the program are endangered or vulnerable species such as chimpanzees, orangutans, elephants and lions. Portraying these animals in a “human” context does little to promote respect and empathy for the species or to educate people as to the true nature of these animals. The program actively markets these animals as “cute pets,” dresses up infant chimpanzees and orangutans as human babies and places them in unnatural scenarios such as shopping tours. Scientific research has shown that these kinds of messages can mislead the public into believing that great apes are not endangered or that they make good pets. With the massive audience it has reached, “Wonderful Friends” has the potential to stimulate widespread interest in having great apes as pets and promote the use of great apes and other endangered animals in entertainment. Given the prevalence of live animal performances in Chinese zoos and safari parks — some of which use wild-caught chimpanzee orphans imported from Africa under falsified permits – this is a serious concern. Even a small demand from the world’s fastest growing economy has the potential to decimate remaining wild populations.

Public Safety Hazards

Exotic animals such as chimpanzees, orangutans, elephants, bears and lions are non-domesticated and dangerous. Untrained members of the public are illequipped to safely handle or manage these animals and are often unaware of the dangers to which they are exposing themselves and their families. Incidents of people being seriously harmed, and in some cases killed, during close contact with these animals are well-documented. In addition, close contact poses hazards to the health of the public and the animals. Disease transmission between humans and great apes can occur in both directions, and zoonotic-related fatalities among great apes are well documented in the wild and in captivity. Despite these safety hazards, the program actively encourages the viewing pubic to engage in close contact with these animals. In the first episode of the show, the infant apes were brought on a shopping tour in public stores and posed for photos with zoo visitors, including a human child. One chimpanzee infant became increasingly distressed as he was handled by a female actress, and bit her face as she was standing next to a zoo visitor for the photo shoot.

Conclusion

China is receiving negative attention from the international community as a result of ”Wonderful Friends.” Given the important conservation advances that China has made recently – including the one-year ban on ivory imports – we are appealing to the producers to recognize the inherent negative outcomes of the program and accept responsibility before further damage is done to the country’s reputation.

On behalf of this broad coalition of international experts, we condemn the ‘Wonderful Friends’ program on the grounds of animal welfare, promotion of public misperceptions about endangered species, and posing public safety hazards. We respectfully request the immediate cancellation of the program and further limitations to the production of similar programs.

Sent on behalf of the following organizations:

1. Amis les Bonobo du Congo

2. Animals Asia Foundation

3. Association of Zoos and Aquariums

4. Bonobo Project

5. Chimpanzee Species Survival Plan

6. Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International

7. Great Apes Survival Partnership

8. Humane Society International

9. Humane Society of the United States

10. HUTAN-Kinabatanagan Orang-utan Conservation Programme

11. Kibale Chimpanzee Project

12. Orangutan Foundation International

13. Pan African Sanctuary Alliance

14. Pingtung Rescue Center for Endangered Wild Animals

15. Project ChimpCARE

16. Project Primates France

17. Project to End Great Ape Slavery

18. Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program

19. World Association of Zoos and Aquariums

20. Animal Defenders International

21. Sumatran Orangutan Society

22.Wild Animal Rescue Network for East and Southeast Asia

23.Ape Alliance

24.HELP-Congo

25.Ape Cognition and Conservation Initiative (ACCI)

26.Project for Wildlife and Apes Conservation (P-WAC)

27. Pro Wildlife

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Please respond to Douglas Cress, Programme Coordinator, Great Apes Survival Partnership, Douglas Cress: [email protected]

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