We’ve asked BBC & Netflix to stop using performing primates in their TV shows

14 May 2021

As part of the Asia for Animals Macaque Coalition Animals Asia joined forces with the Primate Society of Great Britain and the IUCN Primate Specialist Group Section for Human-Primate Interactions to ask the BBC and Netflix to stop using performing primates in their programming.

We are deeply concerned by the persistent use of live monkey “actors” in television drama productions, exemplified most recently by the use of a macaque in the BBC/Netflix co-production The Serpent. 

Although this appeal to the media giants was prompted by the use of a pig-tailed macaque in the recent series The Serpent, which they jointly produced, each of them continues to air programming that features other primate species as performers as well. We noted that capuchin monkeys were used as “actors” in other recent dramas, such as The Alienist and The Terror. Pig-tailed macaques are listed as ‘Vulnerable and Declining’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Such use of primates for entertainment purposes unacceptably compromises the welfare of the individual animals involved, and creates dangerous public misperceptions about the suitability of monkeys as pets and about their status in the wild. In fact, over half of primate species are threatened with extinction and the populations of 75% of species are declining worldwide. Amongst the contributing factors to these declines are capture for the legal and illegal pet trade. Research has demonstrated that imagery of nonhuman primates in human contexts and interacting with people serves to increase demand for pet primates, and leads people to believe that they can make good companions.

The Serpent features a young Northern pig-tailed macaque, collared and chained and kept inside the home of one of the characters. The macaque who appears in The Serpent appears to be young, perhaps only two years of age. At this age, though no longer entirely physically dependent on her, a macaque is still psychologically dependent on their mother. To separate young monkeys from their mothers, or to deny any monkey the opportunity to live in a species-appropriate social group, is a violation of the five needs as defined in Section 9 of the UK’s Animal Welfare Act and of the “Five Freedoms”. 

Northern pig-tailed macaques are native to Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. Throughout this range, they are kept as pets, often illegally. Programs like The Serpent serve to encourage such keeping, both in places where the species occurs naturally, and elsewhere as well as promoting the use of wild animals in entertainment.

In 2012, the Walt Disney Company announced that it would no longer use apes or other large primates, including macaques, as actors in its productions or outside the context of their zoo, sanctuary or natural environments. Although this unfortunately did not extend to other primates, such as the capuchin monkeys that are still regularly used as performers, it was a step in the right direction and we have requested that the BBC and Netflix follow suit and go one step further and move beyond using any primates as performers.

It is increasingly apparent that such use is harmful in many ways and we believe that it's time for it to come to an end. Please read the full letter HERE.

We’re proud to be part of the recently formed Macaque Coalition and will continue to advocate for the improved welfare of macaques.

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