Two chimps from the Myrtle Beach Safari got a big night out last weekend when they attended the opening of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes at a local IMAX movie theater. Theater-goers were reportedly a bit disconcerted by watching the movie with primates, but not for fear of inappropriate behavior. A couple of people questioned whether two-year-old Vali and Sugriva would learn to take over the world if they watched the film.
A 3-D sequel to the earlier blockbuster Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the new film follows the story of humans who survived the Simian Flu now trying to coexist with genetically evolved apes. Advanced Hollywood technology and actors’ intensive study of apes at “ape camp” enabled the film to realistically imitate primates.
Vali and Sugriva seemed impressed, as they were seen reacting to the film just like the human audience, clapping for the good guys and hooting or barking at the bad guys. Dr. Bhagavan Antle is director of Myrtle Beach Safari. He said that Vali is very bright, and has watched The Lord of the Rings many times, and he could follow the whole plot of the movie. Through judging actions and facial expressions he could determine which characters were heroes or villains. The chimps have also seen Rise of the Planet of the Apes and regularly watch television.
A 2001 study published in the journal nature looked at the emotional reactions of chimpanzees watching television, and found that they respond physically to events portrayed in videos just as they would to the events themselves, responses typically associated with humans. The study suggested that humans are not the only animals to feel sad or scared when watching television.
The chimps watched Dawn of the Planet of the Apes with rapt attention that night, although some of the movie’s scenes were frightening, causing one chimp to turn and hug the trainer. Vali was tightly holding the trainer or Sugriva’s hand at times.
Myrtle Beach Safari, also known as The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species ( T.I.G.E.R.S.), is a 50-acre tiger preservation station in Myrtle Beach, where more than 60 big cats live along with leopards, wolves, chimpanzees and orangutans. It is a fund-raising effort for conservation projects of the Rare Species Fund. Primates from the preserve not only watch movies, but have appeared in films and photo shoots, such as Ace Ventura Pet Detective II When Nature Calls and Jungle Book.
Besides Sugriva, Vali has a special friend at T.I.G.E.R.S.: a five-month-old grizzly bear named Bam Bam. The pair has been inseparable since Bam Bam reached the same size as Vali and they were introduced. Although Bam Bam is stronger, Vali is smarter and likes to play tricks on the little grizzly, such as throwing things at him and running around him in circles.
The Vali and Sugriva were excited about attending Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, although they most likely did not realize it was opening night. Both chimps had money for their tickets, which they purchased themselves, and they bought their own popcorn and snacks at the concession stand. Antle said they are smart enough to know how to hand over their money. It was not a private showing for the chimps, who attended the movie with 1,000 other film buffs.
By Beth A. Balen