I remember reading about a female chimpanzee being raised by scientists
in some warm southern state. Her name was Washoe but I forgot her until
I read a novel about research being done on great apes in institutions
around the world. Washoe and 2 other chimpanzees reside in a classroom/living
room within a college campus. I visited them as part of a field trip through
the annual conference – EEAW (Environmental Education Association of Washington)
– state that is.
Recall this chimpanzee raised as a family member by scientists who taught
her to communicate in American sign language. It rocked the world to think
that a lower animal could understand and respond with signs to humans.
Many did not believe it and some still do not.
Washoe lives with her adopted son, Dar, and Tatu, a male who became her
protector. They are all in their late thirties, having been captives since
a few months old. Another female died months ago from an infection. She
was removed to a hospital when she held her stomach and signed "hurt"
but the infection was too far advanced to be treated.
When Washoe became too large and strong to live and play with for human
safety, she was caged and studied further. Other chimps were introduced
to her – some of which she accepted, some refused. Humans cannot live
with adult chimpanzees in captivity without physical danger. Jane Goodall
taught scientists many things about those animals, one of which was that
humans could exist beside the chimpanzees in their world.
Chimpanzees are used mercilessly in entertainment. The young are cute
and forced to perform in circuses and on stage always imitating some human
action. When they grow too large to be controlled they are "released"
to research institutions and infected with disease or used in decompression
studies or other things unimaginable. Safe houses are established to protect
these animals if they are lucky enough to get into one.
We share more characteristics with chimpanzees than any other species
but we are as different from them as horses are to dogs. Perhaps we are
learning just how much we are a part of this world and how closely we
belong to it.
I am ambivalent about being an animal rights activist. But the economic
system that encourages people to abuse anything and everything for money
does not make life better for anyone, especially the abuser.