This morning I spotted a video on the Telegraph’s website of a chimpanzee in a welsh zoo communicating with visitors.
Welsh Mountain Zoo doesn’t say much about how it came by its chimps. They have eleven; three taken from the wild, three transferred from other zoos, and the rest are two generations of children born in captivity. I have a feeling that the zoo would say if their chimps were rescue animals, so the fact that they haven’t is a good indication that the chimps that weren’t born in the zoo were captured in the wild in order to be exhibited for human entertainment in a zoo.
The chimpanzee in the video appears to be asking a visitor to release him, using sign-language to communicate his desire to leave his enclosure, meanwhile the zoo’s visitors laugh at the hilarity of it all. Watching the video, and thinking about the lives of chimpanzees in zoos, I just can’t see the funny side myself.
In 1997 Goodin, Pateman, and Pateman wrote a brave, and ground-breaking paper titled ‘Simian Sovereignty’. In it, they argued that the other Great Apes besides humans: chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans, are entitled to many of the same rights to territorial and personal sovereignty as humans are. Meanwhile, the Great Ape Project has campaigned since the early nineties for the UN to adopt a Declaration on Great Apes, granting them legal protections from being killed, deprived of liberty, or tortured.
Normally, I’d be sitting here at my desk, setting out a carefully constructed, reasoned argument for why it’s wrong to treat non-human animals as the mere means to our ends. However, the emotional force of that unnamed chimpanzee trying to persuade visitors to release it, and using language to do so is almost enough on its own. I’ve seen chimps in zoos, and although I’m sure zoo-keepers are nice people who try their best to make their the lives of their captives pleasant, there’s just no way that an enclosure in Colwyn Bay is going to allow them to flourish and enjoy life like their natural tropical rainforest habitat would. Chimps aren’t exactly our intellectual equals, in fact they are about on a par with an average human three-year old by my understanding (caveat – I’m an ethicist, not an animal psychologist), but it sure looks like that one was reasoning, communicating, and expressing its future desires. So, they may not be full moral persons (I wouldn’t hold a human three-year-old fully responsible for its actions), but chimps do appear to possess an important degree of autonomy.
So, my thought for the morning is that those chimps that can be successfully returned to the wild should be freed as soon as possible. We certainly shouldn’t be taking chimps from the wild to keep captive and display for our amusement: the word for that is ‘slavery’.
The Telegraph’s story can be read here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newsvideo/weirdnewsvideo/9445389/Chimp-seeks-zoo-visitors-help-to-escape-enclosure.html
Goodin, Patemand, and Pateman’s ‘Simian Sovereignty’ can be read here: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/191960
Learn about the Great Ape Project and the World Declaration on Great Primates here: http://www.greatapeproject.org/en-US/oprojetogap/Declaracao/declaracao-mundial-dos-grandes-primatas
For a brilliant and eye-opening talk from someone who is an expert on the minds of chimpanzees, see Frans de Waal’s TED presentation: http://www.ted.com/talks/frans_de_waal_do_animals_have_morals.html