Planet of the Apes 'isn't too far from reality'

Last updated 05:00 11/07/2014

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Animal welfare group Humane Research Australia has thrown its support behind the latest Planet of the Apes movie, claiming the movie serves as a reminder of "the indiscriminate experimental procedures that we subject our closest relatives to".

The group, which campaigns against the use of animals in medical and scientific research, claims the message behind the 2011 film Rise of the Planet of the Apes - which kicked off the rebooted series, now on its second instalment with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - is that "drugs react differently in humans than they do in other animals ... yet primates are still used for research into human ailments".

In the 2011 film, Caesar, the infant son of a chimpanzee that has been given an experimental drug for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease, displays signs of vastly increased intelligence, and ultimately the ability to speak.

The film climaxes with Caesar leading a posse of escaped (and intellect-enhanced) apes from zoos and laboratories across the Golden Gate Bridge and into the forests outside San Francisco.

The new film takes up events a decade later, with humanity decimated by a virus born of that experimental drug and a violent faction of apes, led by Koba, whose early years were spent in a laboratory, determined to see them off for good.

Far-fetched though the premise may appear, Humane Research Australia insists there is a certain resonance with what goes on in laboratories in Australia.

"Baboons are used in heart research, marmosets in brain and vision experiments and macaques are infected with HIV and AIDS - regardless of primates' inability to develop HIV," chief executive Helen Marston says.

"Research experiments are often invasive, with the primate often killed once the test is completed."

HRA claims that in 2012 "235 primates were used in experiments in Victoria". In total, between 5 million and 7 million animals were used in medical and scientific research and teaching in Australia in 2011.

About 87,000 animals died or were put down in experiments in New Zealand in 2012. 

It is not just the recent incarnation of the apes saga that has drawn attention to the issue. It has, in fact, been a central concern from the very beginning.

Pierre Boulle's 1963 novel (originally published in French as La Planete de Singe) devotes considerable space to the narrator's observation of the apes' experiments on their bestial - and mute - human subjects.

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Told he should be grateful for being spared a transfer to the encephalic section, the stranded astronaut Ulysse Merou (who is, in fact, a journalist) is told: "That's where we perform certain extremely tricky operations on the brain: grafting, observation and alteration of the nervous centre, partial and even total oblation."

"And you carry out these experiments on men," he says, horrified.

"Of course," his chimpanzee guide, Zira, replies. "Man's brain, like the rest of his anatomy, is the one that bears the closest resemblance to ours. It's a lucky chance that nature has put at our disposal an animal on whom we can study our own bodies."

- FFX Aus

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