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Monkey World News

Monkey World backs Bafta decision over Tarzan's Cheeta

Daily Echo

MONKEY World director Dr Alison Cronin has applauded BAFTA's decision not to honour Tarzan's chimp Cheeta with a special award. An online campaign to recognise Cheeta - at 76, thought to be the oldest living chimpanzee - for a lifetime of entertaining humans was supported by celebrities including actors Joe McGann and Karl Pilkington and musicians such as New Order's Peter Hook and Mani from Primal Scream. But in a letter to the organisers of the Me Cheeta campaign, BAFTA chief executive Amanda Berry said: "I'm afraid that, although clearly a much-loved figure within the film industry and the viewing public at large, the Academy does not currently recognise the work of animals." Monkey World director Alison, who is continuing the work she started with her late husband Jim Cronin, welcomed BAFTA's decision. "Whether or not BAFTA realises what it has done morally is immaterial, it is to be applauded for acknowledging chimpanzees are not human beings," she says. "For Cheeta to have lived the life he has he would have to be an orphan from a young age and brought up in isolation from his own kind. Any industry that is built on the basis of an animal being an orphan cannot be good." Alison pointed to the work of Monkey World in educating people about the lives of chimps and other primates. "What you can see here is that champanzees are social creatures which need the company of others. What you see in the Hollywood images of Cheeta in sunglasses and a hat is just that - a Hollywood image. "In reality he would have to be kept in a cage for long periods of time contemplating his belly button when he should be out grooming and contemplating the belly buttons of other chimpanzees. "If you read reports of human encounters with Cheeta you will find he has to be restrained and taken from the room to a quiet place because he is unpredictable. In my opinion this is not a happy chimpanzee." In the wild chimpanzees would expect to live between 40 and 50 years, but Alison says it is not surprising to find Cheeta has far exceded that expectation. "Given the pampered life he doubtless lives it's perfectly possible he could live as long as he has. He would have to be fed soft food and receive expert dental care as his teeth crack and break, he would need expert medical care and medicines, but again, I have to ask whether this is desirable? "In this age of animatronics is there really any need to use animals in the film industry? We should see Cheeta as what I hope he is - a relic of a bygone era." Cheeta is believed to have been born in the wild and taken from his home in Liberia in the months before April 9, 1932, when he landed in New York. Although he didn't appear alongside legendary actor Johnny Weissmuller in the first Tarzan film, he was an extra in 1934's Tarzan and His Mate, before being cast as Cheeta in the 1936 film Tarzan Escapes. He went on to appear in another 12 Tarzan films. He also played other chimpanzee parts such as Chee-Chee in Doctor Dolittle with Rex Harrison - his last screen appearance. Since retiring he has lived at a primate sanctuary in California, where he makes paintings which are sold to raise money for primate charities. Earlier this year a biography, Me Cheeta, was published.

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