Nonhuman Rights On Trial

An octopus solves puzzles;
A chimpanzee can add
An elephant expresses
When it’s happy or it’s sad

A finch that’s after grub-worms
Uses twigs and thorns as tools
We thought them foolish animals
They showed us we’re the fools

A honeybee has language, and
A cunning corvid plans—
Though different in important ways
From those we know as Man’s

The differences grow smaller, though,
So don’t yet raise a cup;
Today’s report is sobering….
The apes have lawyered up.

From the NYTimes article:

The Nonhuman Rights Project, an advocacy group led by Steven M. Wise, filed writs of habeas corpus in New York last week on behalf of four captive chimpanzees: Tommy, owned by a Gloversville couple; two at Stony Brook University; and one at the Primate Sanctuary in Niagara Falls. The lawsuits were dismissed, but Mr. Wise said he planned to appeal.

I was going to make a snarky comment about how we can surely afford to give animals all the rights and courtesies we give one another, simply because humans are so terrible to each other already… then I remembered the last circus I went to. And the last local “animal park”. And it took all the snark right out of me.


  1. rq says

    Well, the article answered my questions about personhood re: the voting rights of chimpanzees (and dogs, from a previously read related article). But I still have a question about having different types of personhood in legal existence (which is sort of what they’re going for, if I’m understanding correctly), and how they may or may not be applied to categories of humans, or if novel types of personhood for humans can be invented… Sort of the reverse of the past, I suppose. (That sounds awful lot like a slippery slope type argument…)
    That still leaves me with the issue of intelligent animals, which are certainly deserving of comfort, space, and liberty to live their lives in relative un-confinement. You know, somewhere where they would be happy to live and where they would be capable of more or less living on their own.

    (Unless they want to live with humans/live in a lab… but how does one ask them??)

  2. Johnny Vector says

    Unless they want to live with humans/live in a lab… but how does one ask them?

    Well, it’s not in a lab, but the only “swim with the dolphins” thingies I am willing to patronize are the ones where the dolphins aren’t confined. They just show up, cause hey, free food and those clumsy animals that are fun to play with. That’s more or less asking. (Not that I’ve had a chance to, but maybe someday.)

  3. says

    Till lions foreswear having lambs for dinner,
    And cows sign contracts for burgers and cheese,
    And humans cease wars, because there’s no winner,
    And fish engineer the oceans to freeze,
    Don’t give ’em the vote.

    Each creature lives by its needs and nature,
    They know not of others’ property rights.
    Brains can’t be forced on them by legislature
    Nor skin color– black, yellow, red, brown, or white.
    Don’t give ’em the vote.

    They can’t posit future malfunction or merit
    Nor alter their DNA code save by chance,
    They don’t fashion clothing, then swagger to wear it,
    And they don’t compose opera, nor travel in vans.
    Don’t give ’em the vote.

    Now humans, who deem themselves vastly superior,
    Who alter the world to suit comfort and style,
    Yet keep their kind locked behind barbed wire and barrier
    Like animals exploited with cruelty and guile —
    Don’t give ’em the vote.

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