"With great apes, we're asking them to add that the AHA is not present for the training of great apes prior to the animals being on the set," says Lange. "People have a false sense that because the AHA is on set during a movie, that disclaimer means that everything is OK. It's not."
In 2002-03, primatologist Sarah Baeckler conducted a 14-month undercover investigation of Amazing Animal Actors, then a prime chimp facility, on behalf of a consortium of chimpanzee advocates including Goodall. "It was really rough," says Baeckler, now executive director of a chimp sanctuary near Seattle. "I saw a lot of physical violence. A lot of punching and kicking, and the use of the 'ugly stick,' a sawed-off broom handle, to beat the chimps. The youngest I met were 18 months old and were pretty similar to an 18-month-old human child. They were being kicked in the face and punched in the head and subject to all kinds of physical abuse to keep them paying attention and in line with the trainer."
Baeckler does not "think it has gotten better" since her investigation, and says it's perfectly plausible that a trainer would treat an animal well in public and mistreat it behind the scenes. "It's very similar to an abusive human relationship. The bottom line is: [Chimps] are super strong and super curious and super smart, and the amount of control that the trainers require to keep them paying attention and not misbehaving -- it's too much to be able to do with love and kisses. The way the trainers are able to control them is behind the scenes; they have this very brutal relationship including discipline when they misbehave, and random violence without any seeming provocation. That keeps their attention on the trainer."