Rachel at Fauna

We are not myths of the past, ruins in the jungle, or zoos. We are people and we want to be respected, not to be victims of intolerance and racism.

-Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Nobel Peace Prize Winner, 1992

Last week, the National Academies of Science's Institute of Medicine (IOM) Committee convened to discuss the "Use of Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research" [1]. The IOM is regarded as "the health arm" of the National Academies and is comprised of NIH, NIMH, and other scientists and biomedical researchers. Its stated goals are concerned with the science describing humans and chimpanzees. Scientists have been enlisted to assess the utility and ethics of chimpanzees as experimental subjects in lieu of humans: to decide whether or not it is scientifically viable and ethical to continue to use chimpanzees as our surrogates in experiments that cause debilitating diseases and mental breakdown.

Opponents line up on either side of the debate, divided by what might be called "Caliban's Line." It is a psychological-political-economic force field separating humans from other animals through concept, method, measure, and discourse: a fault line running through scientific ethics created in a quiet war for ownership of the psyche, and waged in the corridors of academia. The war is fierce. Whosoever is shown to possess a mind such as we claim to have, qualifies for human rights and privilege.

Many invoke Shakespeare's Caliban when contemplating the relationship with our closest genetic relative. Like Caliban, the great ape is a "being who touches two worlds, recognizably beast yet somehow approaching human," a "peculiar hybrid that. . .repels yet intrigues." [2] Similar to Caliban who haunted Prospero, chimpanzees comprise a painful stone in the west's shoe of progress, a living reminder of humanity's false claim to privileged uniqueness. However, Caliban's visage, and that of chimpanzees, transforms when viewed through the lens of standing science. The species line dissolves as dark and light, animal and human, and other agonistic splits meld into one.

Jeannie at Fauna

Theory and data from neuroscience, ethology, and psychology have vanquished Caliban's Line with a new, species common model of brain and mind-a trans-species paradigm, a science of sentience. [3] The vast accumulation of research verifies that yes, like us, chimpanzees have culture, consciousness, emotions, cognition, self, and other fine things once thought to be property of Homo sapiens alone. There is no longer an "us," nor a "them." All animals stand shoulder to shoulder in the light of scientific evidence. Relevant to the IOM meeting at hand, this understanding naturally and symmetrically aligns with an ethic that prohibits biomedical experimentation on great apes as it does for humans. [4,5]

This conclusion comes as no surprise. The link between ravages of experimentation and confinement on the human psyche and those of other animals are well established. [3-12] Psychologist Harry Harlow, grandfather of these methods of inquiry, recognized it himself when referring to his experimental procedures on nonhuman primates as the "pit of despair" and "rape rack." Yet such experiments remain routine. Cloistered behind bars or in seemingly more benign "enriched environments," nonhuman primates sit, helpless prey of probing researchers. [12]

While a simple admission to human-animal mental comparability would solve it all, academia instead chooses to divert its efforts elsewhere. Data on animal agony floods journals in the guise of good-hearted dedication to better humanity. Researchers continue to reduce chimpanzee suffering to mute "signs" and "behavior," and endless academic angels perch on equally countless pins in conference after conference debating the human-animal interface, ostensibly to serve our animal kin. But little changes for the subjects of such frenzy. The reason: scientists—and, sadly, science through its selective representation—are not immune from diverse psychological, economic, and political reasons that motivate other dubious human behavior.

This behavior that gives authority for chimpanzees experimentation rests entirely on the ability to deny human-ape mental comparability. This ability is only possible because the scientific community has failed to openly admit to standing evidence, a failure that violates academic integrity, veracity, and ethics.

However, to quote another famous character of the Bard, truth will out. It is no longer possible to hide the brutality of an episteme gone mad. Science has declared itself insane by the same methods used to drive other species mad. [13] Chimpanzee biomedical survivors have been rigorously diagnosed using criteria identical to those used for humans and codified with psychological disorders as found in psychiatry's Bible, the DSM, [14,15] Derivative studies have come to the same conclusion: chimpanzees and humans respond alike when subjected to the horrors of camps, prisons, and violence. Exposed to hundreds of invasive procedures and soul-desiccating isolation, biomedical chimpanzees exhibit symptoms of self-mutilation, depression, anxiety, and eating disorders that constellate as diverse trauma-related disorders including Complex PTSD. [16]

Then there is the somatic testimony, the deafening screams, banging heads, incessant rocking, and self-mutilation of the victims. They speak far more eloquently than any number or pedigreed scientist. In case after case, records reveal a medicine chest of psychological and physical maladies: hepatitis A and B, HIV, wounds and injuries sustained by diverse organs from innumerable biopsies, vaginal washes, darting from anesthesia "guns," and others procedures executed in the quest for human health. [17]

The instruments of such suffering are not immune. Like Prospero, we are faced with the choice of owning the shadow cast by animal suffering or succumbing ourselves. As members of the society in which they live, scientists are also "suffer much like Harlow's isolated monkeys" and are prone to symptoms of "extreme insecure attachment. . .anger, alienation, aggression and low empathy." [18]

Academics must choose between two competing models: one political, and the other scientific. To serve great apes, other animals, and humanity, scientists are compelled to openly endorse the scientific model and in so doing, transform great ape conservation into a movement of social justice and self-determination. [19] Let us harness the spirit and knowledge of science for the good of all and release animals from their bondage.


[1] Institute of Medicine. 2011. The Use of Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research. Retrieved August 12, 2011 from http://www.iom.edu/Activities/Research/Chimpanzees.aspx. August 6, 2011.Accesss August 12, 2011.

[2] Petersen, D. & J. Goodall. 2000. Visions of Caliban: On chimpanzees and humans. University of Georgia Press, p. 13-14.

[3] Bradshaw, G.A. 2009. Elephants on the Edge: What animals teach us about humanity. New Haven: Yale University.

[4] Bradshaw, G.A., & R. M. Sapolsky. 2006. Mirror, Mirror. American Scientist. 94(6). 487-489.

[5] Bradshaw, G.A. & B. L. Finlay. 2005. Natural Symmetry. Nature 435:149.

[6] Brüne, M., Brüne-Cohrs, & McGrew, W.C. (2004). Psychiatric treatment for great apes? Science, 306, 2039.

[7] Brüne, M., Brüne-Cohrs, U., McGrew, W.C., & Preuschoft, S. (2006). Psychopathology in great apes: Concepts, treatment options and possible homologies to human psychiatric disorders. Neurosci. Biobehav. Rev. 30, 1246-1259.

[8] Lilienfeld, S.O., Gershon, J., Duke, M., Marino, L., & de Waal, F.B.M. (1999). A preliminary investigation of the construct of psychopathic personality (psychopathy) in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). J. Comp. Psychol., 113, 365-375.

[9] Reimers, M., Schwarzenberger, F., & Preuschoft, S. (2007). Rehabilitation of research chimpanzees: Stress and coping after long-term isolation. Hormones and Behaviour, 51, 428-435

[10]Brent, L., Lee, D.R., & Eichberg, J.W. (1989). The effects of single caging on chimpanzee behavior. Laboratory Animal Science. 39, 345-346.

[11] Nelson, E.E. & J.T. Winslow (2009). Non-human primates: Model animals for developmental psychopathology. Neuropsychpharmacology, 34(1), 90-105

[12] Yerkes National Primate Research Center. See http://www.yerkes.emory.edu/

[13] Bradshaw, G.A. 2011. The anatomy of madness. Psychology Today, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/bear-in-mind/201107/the-anatomy-anim....

[14] Bradshaw, G.A. et al. 2009. Developmental context effects on bicultural Post-Trauma self repair in Chimpanzees. Developmental Psychology, 45, 1376-1388.

[15] Bradshaw, G.A. et al. 2008. Building an inner sanctuary: trauma-induced symptoms in non-human great apes. Journal of Trauma and Dissociation. 9(1); p. 9-34.

[16] New England Anti-Vivisection Society (2011a). Who's There? Alamogordo Primate Facility. Retrieved 8/17/2011 from ihttp://www.releasechimps.org/uploads/Alamogordo-Primate-Research-Center.htm

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

[18] Narvaez, D. & T. Gleason. (2011). Developmental Optimization. In D. Narvaez, J. Panksepp, A. Schore, and T. Gleason (Eds.), Human Nature, Early Experience and the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness. New York: Oxford University Press.
[19] Bradshaw, G.A. 2010. An ape among many: Animal co-authorship and trans-species epistemic authority. Configurations, 18(1-2), 15-30.

Photo credits: Fauna Foundation

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