Op-Ed from PETA

Clownish Great Ape Greeting Cards Threaten Chimpanzee Survival

By Debbie Metzler, M.S.

Primatologist and Director, Captive Animal Welfare

PETA Foundation

Great apes have excellent memories and are profoundly social beings who forge lifelong friendships and share cultural traditions with their children and peers. They console their friends when they’re upset and help others, even at personal cost to themselves.

What do “silly” greeting cards showing chimpanzees wearing cowboy hats and playing the banjo, picking their noses, holding bouquets of flowers, and “smiling,” say about these intelligent animals?

The great apes are all endangered or critically endangered, and according to Dr. Jane Goodall, chimpanzees may face extinction within our lifetime. But studies show that these greeting cards lead people to believe that they aren’t at risk.

Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo and Duke University conducted research showing that staged images of chimpanzees wearing costumes, displayed in studios, or interacting with humans distort the public’s understanding of their plight and hinder conservation efforts. They may also increase the black market demand for great apes as “pets,” which is one of the main forces driving them toward extinction.

Their toothy “smiles” mislead the public, too. These grins, also known as a “fear grimaces,” are the facial expression that primates make when they’re terrified, and they have reason to be: Undercover investigations have revealed that trainers kick, punch, and beat apes to make them obedient.

Many images of chimpanzees used on cards today are of infants originally provided by the now-defunct Missouri Primate Foundation, a primate breeding facility where animals were often warehoused in cramped cells strewn with trash and their own waste. A whistleblower revealed that workers at the facility punched chimpanzees during training and kidnapped 3-day-old baby chimpanzees from their mothers.

It’s also dangerous to work directly with great apes. During a photo shoot with Hallmark, one chimpanzee, likely under immense stress, reportedly bit his trainer and tried to attack three other people.

Today, nearly every major ad agency and production studio has banned the use of great apes. PETA’s campaigns have prompted companies like the UK’s Moonpig to drop all images of captive great apes, and drugstores CVS and Rite Aid have banned the cards nationwide. Stock-photo agencies Getty Images, Shutterstock, and others, too, no longer accept unnatural images of primates.

Until the greeting card industry makes the same responsible, compassionate decision, our campaigns will continue.

Public perception is everything.