When Social Media Hurts Chimps

Written By: Victoria Foote, JGI Canada & Ashley Sullivan, JGI U.S.
Category: Dr. Jane

At the Jane Goodall Institute, we’ve seen several videos circulating of young chimpanzees dressed up in various outfits and, in one case, scrolling through a cell phone. The videos are extremely popular and have been covered extensively in the media.

We realize that people are captivated by the remarkable intelligence and behaviour of chimps and they are especially human-like when they wear clothes. But the reality is that treating wild animals like this is profoundly disturbing and inappropriate.

In response to the videos, Dr. Jane Goodall has issued the following statement:

I am very disappointed to see the inappropriate portrayal of a juvenile chimpanzee in this video which is currently circulating on social media. Chimpanzees are highly social animals, very intelligent and have complex emotions like humans – it is imperative that we portray them appropriately and that they receive the best possible care in captive environments. Portraying chimpanzees in this way on social media is also perpetuating the illegal pet trade in great apes, and as they cannot be domesticated, interactions with humans as displayed by this video are highly dangerous, as well as harmful to the well-being of the chimpanzee.  As responsible and compassionate individuals, I hope anyone who sees the video will not like, share or comment on it and all responsible media outlets change the coverage of the video to highlight stories of chimpanzees in wild or responsible captive care. And I hope and urge the people who have chimpanzees in their care will cease use of them in this way and join those of us who are working to end the cruel treatment of chimpanzees in entertainment.

– Dr. Jane Goodall

Mike Holston —@The Real Tarzann — has posted videos and images of a chimp named Limbani.  Limbani is never seen with other chimpanzees (as he should be, chimpanzees are extremely social and require the companionship and interaction of other chimps).  Moreover, Limbani is often dressed in clothing, frequently in physical contact with Mike Holston, and obviously encouraged to mimic human behaviour. All of these activities are known to be harmful to the long-term psychological and physical needs of a young chimpanzee. 

The danger of such content cannot be underestimated. It perpetuates the idea that chimpanzees make for cute pets. This belief is a key driver behind the burgeoning illegal trade in chimpanzees and other great apes. Shockingly, an estimated 3,000 great apes are stolen from the wild every year.  

Taking chimpanzees from their forest home is big business, largely conducted on the black market. Chimps are an endangered species and thus protected under international law. Selling baby chimps is both illegal and horribly cruel. For every infant taken, approximately 10 chimps will die as they fight to protect their young.

The Jane Goodall Institute runs the Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center in the Republic of Congo where we care for well over 100 orphaned chimps that have been rescued from trafficking.  Every day we see the traumatic consequences of the illegal trade in great apes and the irresponsible treatment of juveniles – animals that quickly become too big and strong to keep as a “pet.”

Chimpanzees can arrive at Tchimpounga in desperate need of immediate life-saving care, victims of the illegal trade.

You can support our sanctuary by becoming a Chimp Guardian and learning more about the chimps living there.

You can also learn more about our ForeverWild (#4EverWild) campaign, and stand with us against the terrible toll that illegal trafficking is taking on the survival of great ape populations – all great ape species are now classified as endangered and highly endangered. Bluntly, unless wild populations stabilize, current best guesses indicate that great ape populations could disappear in 30 years time.

If you care about chimpanzees, and many people posting and sharing this content claim that they do, please learn more about these animals and how they came to be living under such unnatural circumstances, far from home and dressed like people. Join us in raising awareness of the truth behind the practice and let people know that the best action they can take is no action: Do not share, like or endorse posts that promote using chimps as entertainment or in any other inappropriate and quite possibly cruel manner.