Friday, September 2, 2005

The great apes

Of all the social and environmental problems that keep me awake at night, there is something about the worsening situation of the great apes - gorillas, chimps, bonobos and orangutans - that really gets under my skin.

Fifi and girl play chess at the London Zoo, 1955Maybe it's because I've never forgotten learning that they have a level of cognitive development comparable to that of a five-year-old human child, and so I can't help but believe that they should be accorded the same protection and privileges - including not using them in experiments or for stupid tricks.

Maybe it's because chimpanzees are our closest relatives, intelligent and sociable like us, but we barely understand what that means and so we connect it to other things that scare us.

Maybe it's because Koko is the same age as me, knows 1000 words in sign language, loves her pet cats and enjoys gardening.

Maybe it's because an orang once looked me right in the eye and I recognised myself in him.

And then again, maybe it's because much of what we know about the great apes comes from extraordinary and compassionate women who challenged the boundaries of scientific research.

"Primates are a way into thinking about the world as a whole."
--Donna Haraway

For more excellent photos of apes, check out the Corbis archives.

Update 6/9/05

BBC News - Nations focus on great ape crisis

Support: Great Apes Survival Project, Jane Goodall Institute, International Gorilla Conservation Programme, Orangutan Foundation International.

Until 18 September at the Natural History Museum in London, Face to Face - Photography by James Mollison, "Extraordinary portraits of orphaned apes, highlighting the vitality and intelligence of these magnificent and threatened animals - our closest biological relatives." (Thanks Gary!)


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