Thursday, August 11, 2011

Our Chimp Cousins

by Edd Doerr

"Stop Using Chimps as Guinea Pigs" is the head on an op ed piece in today's (8/11/11) New York Times by Maryland Rep Roscoe Bartlet. Bartlet makes the case that using great apes -- chimps, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans -- as experimental subjects is unnecessary and unethical and should be stopped. For the first time in a very long time I have found something sensible coming from a Republican. But I would go even further.

Science has shown that we humans are apes, that our ancestors split from those of chimps and bonobos (once known erroneously as "pigmy chimps") 5-7 million years ago, that chimp and human DNA are about 98% identical. We have also learned in the last 50 years that great apes can learn to use human sign language and computers, have a human-like ability to think and reason, are capable of using and inventing tools, are capable of empathy.

Since we humans outlasted (or exterminated) the Neanderthals and other near relatives, the four types of great apes, all threatened with extinction, are our remaining animal cousins. Humanist philosopher Peter Singer founded the Great Ape Project to see that they are protected and allowed to live decent lives out of cages (but not loose on the streets, of course).

My 1972 short novel "Eden II" dealt with this subject on the basis of what was known at that time. We have learned a lot more since.

Let me recommend the book The Great Ape Project: Equality Beyond Humanity, edited by Paola Cavallieri and Peter Singer (St Martin's Press, 1993) for a fuller exploration of this theme.

Bartlett and Sen Maria Cantwell are introducing a bill ijn Congress to halt experimentation on chimps and provide for their retirement and sanctuary.

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