The lives of chimpanzees who are used as “actors” underscores the need for the Nonhuman Rights Project and our efforts to gain basic legal rights for nonhuman animals. The stories of Chance and Choppers depict the lives that chimpanzees used for entertainment must endure.
Chance “co-stars” as the “pet” of the Leonardo DiCaprio character in the new movie, The Wolf of Wall Street. Unlike Mr. DiCaprio, Chance isn’t a paid actor who is willingly participating. Instead, Chance is a prop – short for property in acting lingo. Nonhuman animals are always referred to as props – like any of the other objects that make up the background items on a set.
Chance, who is “owned” by the Rosaire family and is held at their Big Cat Habitat in Sarasota, FL, is routinely dressed in clothes and paraded around to various public events. Chance, who was forced to learn how to roller-skate as part of his role, “plays the part of Leo’s pet," Pamela Rosaire Zoppe said.
In addition to his acting duties, Chance also performs at the Big Cat Habitat in what they call, “a unique fundraising experience where the best of the best come to help raise money to support the habitat.”
The Rosaires also own a lion, Handsome, who was used in the film. According to Kay Rosaire, the money they made off of Chance and Handsome goes to support their facility they call a sanctuary.
“They’re professionals. They support the non-working animals,” Rosaire told the Herald Tribune.
Chance is a juvenile chimpanzee – still cute and relatively docile. His time as an actor will come to an end when, as an increasingly strong and unruly adolescent, he becomes unmanageable and dangerous to his human captors. At that time, chimpanzees who have been used in entertainment are generally sold to zoos or to private collectors, and spend the rest of their lives in small, lonely cages.
Take the case of Choppers, for example.
Choppers who, along with the recently deceased Louie, appeared in PG Tips tea television ads in the United Kingdom, has had a rough time adjusting to life out of “show business.”
She now lives at the Twycross Zoo in Leicestershire and is “mixed up,” according to the zoo’s chief executive, Sharon Redrobe. "It’s not a good start in life to be treated like a human because they don’t learn ape behavior and are not very good at being with other chimps.”
Louie and Choppers were raised by humans and spent their lives together before being retired to Twycross in 2002. According to Dr. Charlotte MacDonald, the zoo’s head of life sciences, this did not allow them to learn how to behave like chimpanzees.
"Chimpanzees are group-living animals," said Ms. MacDonald. “But [Louis and Choppers] were very focused on humans, more than they should be.”
Ironically, the death of Louie this past July seems to have forced Choppers to begin socializing with the other chimpanzees at Twycross.
"She’s integrating nicely in her twilight years," said Ms. Redrobe. "She took part in a grooming circle the other day, which is absolutely brilliant."
Perhaps, one day, Chance will be able to join his own grooming circle at a real sanctuary. Until then he must continue to endure a life of woeful indignity while being forced to perform behaviors that are entirely unnatural to chimpanzees – and just so humans can be entertained.