Apes exploited for the entertainment industry are often shuffled around from one decrepit facility to another. After they become too large to be used for movies, television, traveling shows, and photo-ops, many spend the rest of their lives in shoddy roadside zoos or warehoused at breeding compounds. Some are fortunate to be retired to accredited zoos, and a lucky few have been rescued by reputable sanctuaries.
Fortunately, the use of great apes within the entertainment industry is becoming less and less common.
Here is some information about current non-human ape trainers:
- Steve Martin's Working Wildlife (not associated with comedian Steve Martin) was the last Hollywood-specific training facility for chimpanzees. Chimpanzees Suzy, Billy, and Eli made various appearances in music videos, commercials, and TV shows. Martin has a history of discarding chimpanzees to roadside zoos and pseudo-sanctuaries when he no longer has a use for them. He sent Suzy, Billy, and Eli to Wildlife Waystation in California in 2019 before it announced it was closing. They have since moved to accredited facilities.
- The Rosaire-Zoppe family is still involved in the antiquated animal circus business, usually operating under the name Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary in Florida. Chance, a chimpanzee in their care, is also leased out for entertainment purposes. He appeared in the movie Wolf of Wall Street.
- Bhagavan "Doc" Antle at The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (TIGERS) and Myrtle Beach Safari (operating in Florida and South Carolina) uses chimpanzees and orangutans as well as other captivity bred wild animals for entertainment under the guise of conservation awareness. You may recognize the name from the infamous documentary Tiger King. Myrtle Beach Safari is well-known for their promotion of "unlikely animal friendships" between an infant chimpanzee and a tiger and an orangutan and a dog. The trainers purposely manufacture these relationships by exposing the animals to one another when they are very young. Antle has written children's books that talk about these relationships. These books and the idea that the animal friendships are cute and funny send a very wrong message to children about the true nature of wild animals. Myrtle Beach Safari and various animal trainers who work there have built up large followings on social media and frequently post "cute" and widely-shared photos and videos that camouflage the socially impoverished lives of the animals in their care. TIGERS/Myrtle Beach Safari also takes money in exchange for photo opportunities where people can have contact with chimpanzees and infant tiger cubs. These "pay to play" schemes are irresponsible, a safety risk to both the public and the animals, and encourage further captive breeding and wildlife trafficking.
- Several trainers who have dropped out of the business of training apes for entertainment tragically cast off former "actors" to roadside zoos. Others have made the responsible decision to retire the apes to accredited zoos or reputable sanctuaries.
Read the North American Primate Association's Position Statement on Performing Primates.