Bear in Mind

Exploring the common minds and emotions of people and other animals and their lives together

Chimpanzee Symphony, Opus 1060

Facing Down Indifference

Chimpanzees released into santuary
Chimpanzees released. Photo: Jens Koch
Jens Koch
In a way, to be indifferent to...suffering is what makes the human being inhuman. Indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred. Anger can at times be creative. One writes a great poem, a great symphony, one does something special for the sake of humanity because one is angry at the injustice that one witnesses. But indifference is never creative. Even hatred at times may elicit a response. You fight it. You denounce it. You disarm it. Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a response. Indifference is not a beginning, it is an end...The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees—not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity we betray our own.  -Elie Wiesel [1]

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This past Friday, the New York Post reported that three chimpanzees, looking like "POWs sprung from behind bars," were released into an Austrian sanctuary. [2] The former inmates were "feeling the grass beneath their feet and smelling fresh air for the first time—after a horrific 30-years-long stint locked in laboratory cages." [3] Post-release photos show them standing at the lintel between death and life, their faces mixed with the joy and disbelief reminiscent of other, human survivors.

Rachel on island structure
Rachel on island structure. Photo: Fauna Foundation
Fauna Foundation
After decades of biomedical testing and research, thirty-eight chimpanzees will spend remaining days in relative peace. No longer will they huddle isolated behind bars in existential limbo waiting for the next assault when they are pinioned by anesthesia and straps in the name of The Greater Good.

But whose good and at what cost? Some protest that animal sacrifice is justified, indeed ennobled, because their deaths have made the lives of so many humans possible. But this kind of ethical arithmetic is a zero sum game. There is neither the science nor any justifiable answer to the confused horror and pitiful questioning "why?" by a chimpanzee looking up, strapped and helpless, as a diseased syringe injects toxins into his once nature-perfect body. [4]

Tom sitting on bridge
Tom sitting on bridge. Photo: Fauna Foundation
Fauna Foundation
A glance around at the environment and our families and friends shows what callous indifference to animal suffering has brought. Certain humans may stay the ravages of certain diseases under certain circumstances through science's mutilating progress, but humanity has become victim to its hubris in the process. Indifference to the suffering of those arbitrarily labeled "other" has visited the sins of mothers and fathers on the children of generations to come. Billions of animal bodies abused and used to fuel the bellies and coffers of modern industry now face us off in silent vengeance. Trauma consumed in food and drugs permeates human cells turning nourishment into disease: the body keeps score. [5,6,7] Hunter becomes hunted. There is no exit without relinquishment of human privilege. Human sanctuary only obtains when animal consumption and torture stops.

Tom making night nest
Tom making night nest. Photo: Fauna Foundation
Records show that 264 chimpanzees remain in American Zoological Association (AZA) accredited zoos, 250 are privately owned as "pets" or by entertainment enterprises, and 1,060 are kept in laboratories [8], the latter whose fate is currently on trial. In various sanctuaries there are approximately 600 chimpanzees now in residence. Some nights, in the quiet of such asylums, residents awake to the agonized screams of a chimpanzee in the grips of past memories, but they will be just that—phantoms that fade with the coming light of day and the warmth of tender friendship. [9 10, 11] Our own night terrors cannot be banished so easily. Indifference is a fearsome enemy.

Literature Cited

[1] Wiesel, E. 1999. The perils of indifference. Speech delivered at the White House, April 12, 1999.

[2] Li, D. 2011. Lab chimps freed after 30 years. New York Post.

[3] Hall, A. 2011. Free at last! Chimps caged for 30 years and injected with HIV in cruel experiments finally feel the sun on their faces again.Daily Mail online.

[4] Bailey, J. (2005). Non-human primates in medical research and drug
development: A critical review. Biogenic Amines, 19, 235-255.

[5] Stone, G. Campbell, T.C. & Esselstyn, C. 2011. Forks over Knives: The Plant-Based Way to Health. New York: The Experiment.

[6] Van der Kolk, B. 1994. The body keeps the score: memory and the evolving psychobiology of post traumatic stress disorder. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 1:253-265.

[7] Masson, J. 2010. The Face on Your Plate. The Truth About Food. New York: W. W. Norton & Company

[8] New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS).

[9] Bradshaw, G.A., Capaldo, T, Lindner, L & G. Grow. 2009. Developmental context effects on bicultural post-trauma self repair in Chimpanzees. Developmental Psychology, 45, 1376-1388.

[10] Bradshaw, G.A., Capaldo, T, Lindner, L & G. Grow. 2008. Building an inner sanctuary: trauma-induced symptoms in non-human great apes. Journal of Trauma and Dissociation. 9(1), 9-34.

[11] Fauna Foundation.

G.A. Bradshaw, Ph.D., Ph.D. is the author of Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach Us About Humanity.

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