Animal Emotions

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Chimpanzees Should Not Be Treated as Books in a Library

Chimpanzees should not be stockpiled as if they're mere objects

The debate about whether or not to use chimpanzees in invasive biomedical research continues, with the chimpanzees making small gains here and there (see also for more background about some of the deception involved in the ongong discussions). One concern has centered on the stockpiling of chimpanzees who are kept in horrific conditions because they may be needed in future research. 

A recent article about efforts to gain freedom for chimpanzees who are held in research laboratories shows clearly that those who want to use them for research do indeed think of them as mere objects, with no concern at all for their well-being. In a thoroughly heartless statement, consider this incredibly perverse quotation from Dr. John VandeBerg, Director of the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas:

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"I think of the chimpanzees in the same way that I think of a library. There are many books in the library that will never be used this year or next year ... Many of them might never be used again. But we don't know which ones will be needed tomorrow, next year or the year after."  People like him should never be in charge of research on any nonhuman animal and we should work to get them out of their positions of power. Indeed, they should never ever be allowed to do any research on other animals. These are the words of a perverse mind, absent any heart whatsoever.

Clearly, Dr. VandeBerg thinks it's okay to keep animals in the equivalent of jail cells because they may be needed in the future. Consider also the words of world renowned conservationist and UN Messenger of Peace Jane Goodall: "All invasive research is torture ... And it's not just the procedures. It's the imprisonment. It's being kept in a small space with no choice. You just are there. You're powerless." Furthermore, according to Goodall, "the tragedy is that some of the chimps in the labs know nothing else. They have never tasted any kind of freedom in their lives. Freedom to choose, freedom to go where they want."

It's important to realize and to act on the fact that chimpanzees are sentient beings who are able to suffer deep and enduring pain. Viewing them as nonsentient objects defies what we know about these amazing beings and it's this view that allows some people to continue to torture them mercilessly. 

Note: You can email VandeBerge at  JLV@sfbrgenetics.org. 

 

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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