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On Killer Chimps, Big Cats and Alligators

The backstory of Daniel Flynn’s "Orphan Chimps Turned Killer Find Leone Refuge," is vaguely familiar–except for the chimps. In South Florida (and other places in the US), the main characters are big cats. Baby animals born in the wild are basically abducted and used as pets. To the surprise of the humans involved, they inevitably become large, difficult to deal with, and/or deadly. Lesson? Don’t use wildlife as pets.

Humans appear to have a not very steep learning curve, however, and despite our proclamations of our own brilliance, and we fail to learn this lesson.

Let’s deconstruct:

  • In Sierra Leone, chimp populations are in steep decline as hunters butcher entire families, often using them for bushmeat.
  • Babies are often spared and brought to town and adopted by people who think they’re cute.
  • Chimps have demonstrated 38 vocalizations, their family bonds are strong, and they are "prodigious toolmakers." In other words, they are like us.
  • "Chimps are fierce and territorial and their powerful bodies are five times stronger than a man’s. Wild chimpanzees will not attack humans because the latter are taller, but domesticated chimps quickly realize their physical advantage. The orphaned chimps are scarred by years of abuse. For almost all of them, their first experience of mankind was the slaughter of their families. Many were forced to drink alcohol to entertain humans; some had their teeth smashed or were kept in tiny cages."
  • Bala Marasekaran, who used to be an accountant, started a sanctuary for them 20 years ago and hopes to rehabilitate them and return them to the wild. He says, "They are all individuals, they all have different characters so it’s never boring with them." When he describes the chimps as his passion he says, "It would probably happen to anyone who gets close to a chimp. You see your reflection in them and want to help them." Except if you’re a hunter, in which case your reflection makes you want to kill them.
  • Several chimps escaped their enclosure and mauled a man to death. They were recaptured and are back at the sanctuary.

First let me say that starting a sanctuary is brutal business. I’ve watched someone do it and it takes the utmost dedication to the animals and often every other part of the person’s life is sacrificed.

It is interesting that the appeal of chimps is that they are like us. We see ourselves in them. We see them as individuals because we see their human-like qualities. They "vocalize," they make tools, they have strong family bonds. In a sense, their genetic and behavioral similarity to us is what saves them. It’s what makes us want to save them. Even after they’ve killed a person (not that I don’t think we should save them–I’m just making a point).

Here in South Florida, baby alligators are often left orphaned. People usually don’t think they’re cute or see themselves in the gators, so they might used them for alligator-wrestling or stick them in a box in a restaurant as some kind of exhibit. Often as they grow they prove to be too much to handle and are discarded (i.e., killed).

If they come to close to people or injure someone they are hunted down and roped, and their eyes and mouth are taped shut with electrical tape. Then they’re killed. We see it all the time on the news. People cheer. The news anchor jokes and congratulates the gator wrangler. That’s what happens to animals who aren’t enough like people.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. I am astounded at what is called the 'exotic pet trade'. I had no idea the US was importing bulk lots of wild African rodents, trading in wild caught squirrels and prairie dogs etc.

    I accidentally caught a wild mouse once and out of curiousity put it in an old mouse cage I had. It tried to escape contuously for about an hour after which I *finally* got the point and released it. Wild animals are indeed not pets.

    September 28, 2007
  2. Ellie #

    It seems human "compassion" (if you can call it that) tends to be narcissistic, and animal advocates can get caught in the like-us trap too. The Great Ape Project speaks for non-human primates because they are so much like humans. Steve Wise wants to measure non-human intelligence against ours. Scientists devised the mirror test, which supposedly proves only primates have self awareness– because like us — they can recognize themselves in a mirror. Nonsense!

    September 28, 2007
  3. Ellie, I wrote about the Great Ape TRUST in August, if you're interested:
    (I doubt any of it is news to you.)

    September 28, 2007
  4. I have come across studues where dolphin and elephants pass the mirror test. But truly don't see why it should matter. It comes from a torturous argument that pain is experienced only by those with self-awareness. I am utterly unable to understand why that should be the case. Ditto the efforts to teach animals conversational language.

    September 28, 2007
  5. Ellie #

    Thanks, Mary! I wasn't familiar with the Great Ape Trust, as I've been focusing on GAP and in contrast, GRASP.

    About the mirror test, Emily, I think it demonstrates the arrogance of science. And yet it doesn't even hold up to critical thinking, since animals who can't pass the test (or learn sign language) are obviously self aware. I'm only surprised scientists don't see that, or maybe they just don't want to. It's speciesism with the blessings of science.

    September 28, 2007
  6. Good comments about the "mirror test". All the mirror test proves is that the test subject recognize reflections in mirrors. It is strange how some people insist on the mirror test as a good test for self-awareness when what appears in the mirror is NOT the self, but its reflection!

    September 29, 2007
  7. I would note that us "scientists" are as diverse a group as any. "Scientism" (giving the method more power than the subject) is just the PETA of of the field.

    October 1, 2007
  8. Ellie #

    Yes, and it really bugs me when personal agenda is called "science".

    October 1, 2007

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