Saturday, August 27, 2011

Monkeys is just little people with funny hands

It's less than 48 hours before I leave for Valdosta. I've spent a bundle of time and money on this trip, so I'm hoping for some pretty magnificent shit to happen.

Tarpon Springs, FL
August 20

There's a primate sanctuary along the Pinellas Trail between St. Pete and Tarpon Springs. It surprises you amid the repetitive residential areas and small towns. I'm not sure if it's my fear of chimps or a basic danger response, but hearing apes banging on bars and hooting, starting as a series of grunts and escalating to loud yelps, is terrifying. But, I don't know if I feel empathy for them or ambivalence.

I'm afraid of them because they look human-ish, and are violent, brute animals. I'm uncomfortable with the fact that an animal with the mind of a young child can tear people apart. Even Jane Goodall argues that the image of a chimp as a playful mini-human is faulty. The fact that these animals can use their hands to just tear a face off is horrific. They organize raids into other tribes to rape and murder, which end in cannibalism. Maybe it's not the chimps themselves but the familiarity with humans outside of  comfortable first world nations (although that doesn't guarantee it won't happen.) Talking about "human as an animal" is pretty well worn territory, but conceivably humans as a whole would understand the significance of murder. It's how it happens though. A chimp doesn't kill you quickly and humanely, but mauls and bites you to death. In the same way their resemblance to a human is terrifying, it makes them easy to empathize with.

Scary and stupid as they are, I wonder about the morality of keeping semi-sapient animals in isolated cells. I read somewhere that keeping a human or animal in an environment lacking cognitive stimulation results in the brain atrophying and resembling that of a stroke victim. I don't like apes, but it doesn't seem right to keep them in isolation. It raises the question of whether it's better to raise them and leave them mentally stunted or let them go endangered in the wild. A 2% genetic difference is significant, but how much isn't clear. Their lack of mental faculties doesn't guarantee they lack sentience, and that kind of isolation in humans has some pretty miserable effects.

I'm not sure how I feel about the primate sanctuary. It's neat to see wild and exotic animals, but it makes me question the rationale for keeping them in captivity. Maybe they haven't been handicapped by their captivity, but they sure looked bored. And I don't have to empathize on a level of sharing the chimps' experience to know that being bored sucks.

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