Mary’s Monday Metazoan: A member of the family


Good news, everyone! The US Fish and Wildlife Service has decided that captive chimpanzees deserve the same protection as wild chimpanzees. We’ve been living for years with a peculiar split decision that says it is illegal to experiment on some chimps, the ones still living in the wild, but other chimps, those that live in research colonies, have fewer protections.

This is a good thing. I’m all for research on chimpanzees — I want to see more studies done on our closest relatives — but it has to be done in a way that respects their right to live, just as we do a great deal of research on human beings, while still defending their autonomy and right to be unharmed.


  1. Dark Jaguar says

    Is… is that monkey actively posing for a photo up there? Like, will it want to see the photograph afterwards? It really looks like it knows what’s going on there.

    My general rule of thumb is to give any creature all the rights it’s capable of “asking” for. If it’s trying to get out of a cage, release it somewhere safe. If it wants to vote (generally, only one species seems to want to do this), let it vote. So far, it’s worked. Mind, I’ve grown up in neighborhoods where people tend to let their pets roam free without any complaints, so to me keeping them “cooped up” seems cruel. (Isn’t that rumor about cats killing basically all the birds just an urban legend?)

    I have a serious philosophical question though. If punching a gorilla was the only way to stop the end of the world, would you do it? …. You know what, screw the serious philosophical question. Here’s a more entertaining one. If Mike Tyson put everything into his best punch in his best physical condition, could he K.O. a silverback?

  2. says

    Dark Jaguar @ 1:

    Mind, I’ve grown up in neighborhoods where people tend to let their pets roam free without any complaints, so to me keeping them “cooped up” seems cruel. (Isn’t that rumor about cats killing basically all the birds just an urban legend?)

    No, it damn well is not an urban legend. I live rural, and I have animals. I am considerate enough to keep my animals confined to my property, and I do not appreciate assholes who cannot be bothered to be responsible for their animals. I loathe other peoples’ cats coming onto my property, killing birds, digging in my garden, shitting all over the place, and spraying all over my house. I don’t appreciate other peoples’ dogs on my property, either.

    Part of my income is derived from wildlife photography, specifically birds, and I have had one fuck of a time with cats coming onto my property and stalking and killing birds. If someone cannot be arsed to keep their animals on their property, they shouldn’t have them in the first place.

  3. billgascoyne says

    Just curious (and pedantic), any way to verify that the image is a chimpanzee and not a bonobo? The proportions strike me (not that I’m an expert or anything) as the latter.

  4. Rowan vet-tech says

    Cats that live primarily outdoors also have significantly shorter lifespans on average, because so very many of them die as kittens/young cats from predators, disease, and cars. I typically cannot go more than five days in a row on my commute to work without seeing a new cat dead in the road. Most of these are probably ferals, but still. Outdoor felines also have to deal with increased risk of contracting FeLV or FIV, abscesses from fighting with other cats, predation and angry neighbors. Pets should no be roaming free. It is highly irresponsible.

  5. marcus says

    @ 1
    More pedant.
    Chimpanzee (or bonobo) =/= monkey.
    (You were probably trying to be funny.)

  6. fusilier says

    @5 billgascoyne

    There’s a promo photo for one of the 1930s Tarzan movies, out in the aether. Johnny Weismueller, Maureen O’Hara (O’Sullivan? I get the two confused) and “cheetah.”

    Only the chimpanzee is looking right at the camera and smiling.

    James 2:24

  7. F.O. says

    PZ, IIRC you were in favor of experimenting on cat cubs by sewing their eyes shut.
    To me, this doesn’t seem “done in a way that respects their right to live”. Would you approve of the same experiments done on chimpanzees?
    This is a genuine question, I haven’t resolved my mind on animal experimentation, I find the topic to be a minefield.

  8. gerryl says

    I, too, thought the adult has a bit of a bonobo look, particularly around the mouth, but I’m certain that is a common chimpanzee, pan troglodytes.

    Very glad about the change in classification. I personally know A LOT of former research chimps.

  9. llewelly says


    More pedant.
    Chimpanzee (or bonobo) =/= monkey.

    It’s poor pedantry, because we know that old world monkeys (Catarrhini) and new world monkeys (Platyrrhini) are both called monkeys … and chimps are among the the Catarrhini . So chimps are phylogenetically monkeys. It’s no different from calling birds dinosaurs or geckos lizards.

  10. says

    A large part of me wants to say this is good. However, there are a lot of necessary medical studies that cannot be done as effectively without using chimpanzees. HIV-A, the retrovirus responsible for the global epidemic, is closely related to the chimpanzee simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), and studying SIV in situ has been instrumental in our understanding of how to treat HIV. One of the most promising treatments yet, synthetic antibodies, simply would not have been possible without chimpanzee studies. So yeah, I’m a bit concerned over where this will end up.

  11. Callinectes says

    @14 Rejig the scenario: if there were no humans, and chimps were capable of science and medical studies, how would they research treatment for SIV?