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When It Comes to Exploiting Animals on Screen, We're Moving in the Right Direction

27/10/2014 17:44 GMT | Updated 27/12/2014 10:59 GMT

I was shocked last week to see a real chimpanzee in One Direction's new music video for Steal My Girl - shocked not only because the animal who was seen lovingly played with by band members Louis Tomlinson and Zayn Malik is known to have come from an entertainment-industry animal supplier with numerous citations to his name but also because we just don't see that many real animals on television or in the movies these days. And a good thing it is, too! Computer-generated imagery (CGI) has made the cruel exploitation of animals onscreen obsolete and, frankly, dated.

PETA has been in touch with the band members to advise them that the animal trainer who supplied the chimpanzee has been cited numerous times for shocking violations of the very minimal standards of the US Animal Welfare Act, including for failure to provide animals with adequate veterinary care; locking chimpanzees and orang-utans in "night housing" (small cages) for up to 18 hours a day with no enrichment items; failure to supply adequate shelter from the elements; denying animals adequate space; failure to provide adequate ventilation, clean cages and proper feeding and dumping his animals when they've become too dangerous to use anymore at roadside zoos.

In natural environments, chimpanzees build nests, forage for natural food, make and use tools, groom each other and raise families, but in the entertainment industry, it is standard practice for chimpanzees to be torn away from their mothers at birth and trained under the threat of punishment to perform unnatural tricks for human amusement, only to be discarded at roadside zoos just a few years later. After speaking with the band's representatives, I have every confidence that this will be the last time the young men will work with wild animals, and I hope they'll also cut the offending scenes and donate a percentage of the proceeds from the song to an organisation that rescues chimpanzees and cares for them properly.

On-screen entertainment has progressed, technically as well as socially, since the commercials of the 1970s, in which chimpanzees were forced to don roller skates, carry pianos or pour tea from a pot. Indeed, earlier this year, Twycross Zoo, which made a lot of money from old PG tips ads, admitted that the use of apes in this way was wrong and has highlighted the damage that it has caused the primates in later life. Using animals as living props and unpaid "talent" in order to sell goods, be it tea or music downloads, is something that should be relegated to the history books.

Renowned primatologist Dr Jane Goodall - considered to be the world's foremost expert on chimpanzees - agrees that it is unacceptable for the entertainment industry to use these unique and extraordinarily intelligent animals. With today's technology, animals can appear in movies without any real-life suffering.

Computer-generated animals look just as realistic as live animals and also allow for performances that are too emotionally complex or dangerous to achieve with live animals, and they hit their mark every single time. Compare, for example, the static "performance" of the real chimpanzee in Steal My Girl to the breathtakingly moving and stunningly life-like young orang-utan created by The Mill for electricity Supplier SSE's latest high-profile television advert. I have to say, when I first saw him, I was totally taken in, and I bet many others were, too.

Recent films such as Darren Aronofsky's Noah and Rupert Wyatt's Rise of the Planet of the Apes have relied on computer-generated animals as have award-winning television adverts featuring CGI meerkats and an actor thrashing out Phil Collins rhythms on a drum set (yes, that was an actor in a gorilla costume!). No one can say that their enjoyment of those films and ads, which collectively made billions, was in any way diminished because the "animals" didn't have beating hearts. On the contrary, their performances were enhanced, as was our collective visual enjoyment.

Two years ago, PETA US released an advert called "98% Human", narrated by Oscar-winning actor Adrien Brody, which showed a CGI chimpanzee moving around inside a police-interview room. The spot won a Gold Lion for visual effects at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. Dozens of agencies - including the top 10 advertisers in the US - have now agreed not to exploit apes for profit, because with all the high-tech animatronics and computer software available today, there is no justification for subjecting animals to the stress of travel, confinement, confusing conditions, bright lights and loud, scary noises that come with being used on a film set.

There's nothing "entertaining" about seeing animals act out scenes, forced to perform in ways that are unnatural to them and that may result in lifelong injuries. Yet shockingly, there are still industries that profit from cruelty to animals in the name of entertainment. There's simply no justification for turning the suffering of animals into a spectacle.