Jessamine County

Jessamine primate group tells Cameron Crowe to stop using monkeys in films

April Truitt, photographed on Thursday, April 21, 2011 at the Primate Rescue Center in Nicholasville.
April Truitt, photographed on Thursday, April 21, 2011 at the Primate Rescue Center in Nicholasville.

Please, no more monkey business.

April Truitt, who runs the Primate Rescue Center in Jessamine County, is sending that message to movie director Cameron Crowe in a plea not to use monkeys or apes in anymore films.

Truitt and others who operate similar sanctuaries for abandoned or neglected animals say they're concerned that the use of a Capuchin monkey in Crowe's new movie, We Bought a Zoo, will cause the public to buy the creatures as pets, only to cast them off when they become too difficult to tend.

"Monkeys and apes are adorable as babies, but the novelty soon wears off and they grow into strong adults who are strong-willed, naturally curious and destructive, and capable of causing some pretty severe injuries," members of the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance wrote to Crowe in a letter this week.

The letter was published on the Web site of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Privately owned monkeys end up in the care of primate sanctuaries, the members wrote. The letter was signed by Truitt and the directors of other sanctuaries in Florida, Louisiana, Oregon, Washington state and Canada.

Attempts to reach Crowe and a spokesman for 20th Century Fox, the movie's distributor, were unsuccessful.

Crowe, whose father was from Powell County, was in Versailles and Elizabethtown in 2004 to shoot scenes for his 2005 movie Elizabethtown. Crowe's other movies include Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous and Say Anything. He also directed a documentary about the rock band Pearl Jam that debuted in Toronto earlier this month.

We Bought a Zoo, starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson, is based on the true story of Benjamin Mee, a British journalist who moved his family to a dilapidated zoo and wrote about it in a memoir. The movie is scheduled for release before Christmas, and it is Crowe's first feature film since Elizabethtown, which received many negative reviews.

Asking moviemakers to restrain or end their use of animals is nothing new for PETA and the Humane Society of America. Six months to a year after the live-action 101 Dalmatians was released in 1996, shelters and rescue organizations reported a 25 percent increase in dumped Dalmatians. People apparently saw the movie and loved the playful, spotted breed, but by the time puppies had matured, owners grew weary of caring for the high-maintenance dogs.

Truitt and other sanctuary directors fear the same will happen when moviegoers see Crystal the Capuchin monkey in We Bought a Zoo. Crystal, 17, has had more work than many human actors, appearing in more than 20 movies, including The Hangover Part II, Night at the Museum and its sequel, and in the NBC comedy Community.

In an interview with USA Today published in August, a half-kidding Crowe said the movie is "Crystal's breakthrough performance. ... She is not just the hottest actress around, but also the most compelling."

Although monkeys are generally not sold in pet stores, Truitt said in an interview that they are available through exotic-animal auctions and through "hundreds of sellers on the Internet."

"They're not legal to bring into the state of Kentucky, or to sell within the state as pets," Truitt said.

Monkeys can sell for $6,000 to $10,000 as infants, she said. But as they reach full maturity, they push away from those that they attached themselves to as infants.

"By the time they're 3-year-olds, they're worth absolutely nothing. People are calling and begging us to please take this thing off their hands," Truitt said.

But most sanctuaries who take in injured or neglected primates can't take any more animals. The Primate Rescue Center in Jessamine County has 11 chimpanzees and 39 monkeys.

"Right now, there is no room in the inn," Truitt said.

"The bottom line is that using monkeys or apes as performers is never in the animal's best interest, and in a general way sends the message that these animals are okay to be used in that way: to be used for our amusement, to be discarded when we're done with them," she said.

Truitt and the others concluded in their letter to Crowe: "If influential people such as yourself pledge not to use trained monkeys and apes in their production out of consideration for the well-being of primates everywhere, that will go a long way to reducing and ultimately ending the trade in non-human primates."