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Protecting the Great Apes

June 23, 2002

One certainly admires the research work done by Craig Stanford on the great apes ("Open the Labs and Set Them Free?" by Douglas Foster, June 2). Indeed, it is a stimulating fact that chimpanzees are genetically 98% the same as humans. However, it is deeply disturbing when Stanford compares chimps to 2-year-old children and, even more appalling, to a "cognitively impaired adult."

All the great apes are magnificent animals, and they should not be compared to higher or lower forms of life. If all were really well with the world, we would leave them in their own environment. They should not be in laboratories enduring horrifying experiments and being injected with HIV. After all, pain is pain, and genetically their nerves must be as sensitive as ours. They must have feelings of imprisonment and hopelessness too. Many cries would be heard if we experimented on pandas. Why is there so little reaction for a fine and helpless chimp?

Joyce Howard

Santa Monica

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Thank you for an incisive article outlining a great dilemma: we experiment on great apes because they are so like us, but if they are so like us, how can we experiment on them? As caretakers of the earth, we humans must take our heads out of the sand, our hands out of our pockets and move this argument forward--beyond the "why, next they'll be taking the meat out of my mouth" fear of vegetarians. Not every first step leads to a slippery slope. We must find a moral and ethical balance that protects the rights of animals as well as human beings.

Jackie Smith

Chula Vista

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Foster writes that psychologist Daniel Povinelli believes the human ability to "speculate about the internal lives of other beings" distinguishes humans from all other animals. For years, research has shown that nonhuman animals do, in fact, "speculate about the internal lives" of others by showing compassion for other beings. If animals act as if they understand something, we have all the evidence that can possibly be gathered that they understand it. If Povinelli wants to argue that nonhuman animals do not have moral lives, he ought to provide some behavioral evidence instead of just relying on dogma. The behavior of animals has shown us that nonhuman animals are not just thoughtless beings that we can torture and confine without moral consequence.

Daniel Elstein

Brooklyn, N.Y.

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