Scientists at the Great Ape Trust of Iowa have teamed with colleagues at several major zoos to oppose the use of apes and monkeys in advertisements and entertainment, because they say the animals often are abused.
Animal welfare groups have documented apes being shocked with prods and beaten with broom handles, tire irons, fists and hammers. For years, they have fought to expose and stop abuse. Now, with a growing contingent of scientists fighting the same battle, the issue is getting more attention.
"Many animals are kept in disastrous conditions," said Philippe Cousteau, president of EarthEcho International, a nonprofit conservation group. "It definitely elevates the debate to have respected scientists involved."
At the same time, ads featuring apes abound, and were among the most popular during last year's Super Bowl, according to several industry surveys. The Taco John's ads featuring Whiplash the Cowboy Monkey, which have run since May 2004, have been hugely popular, said Erin Fifield, who represents Taco John's at the Kerker ad agency in Minneapolis.
"People love him," Fifield said. "Whiplash has a fan base worldwide. He's just a lovable character who, even before he joined Taco John's campaign, was appearing at rodeos riding around on his dog. Since he joined Taco John's, sales are up and visibility is up."
Fifield said Whiplash's owners, a family in Dallas, treat the monkey as a family member. "This little monkey is treated better than most people," she said. "He has his own trailer. He's like another kid."
The Whiplash appearances on behalf of Taco John's are expected to continue another two years or more, Fifield added. "Someone will always find a reason to complain, but he is not abused," she said.
Private ape owners and trainers in the entertainment industry argue that their animals perform tricks for rewards and affection, not because of abuse.
But some scientists say even apes that are not beaten suffer harm, and they say ads featuring funny chimps and monkeys are increasing in popularity.