One Primate Species Is Driving Many Others Toward Extinction

“Yo, your obsession with soap and cleanliness is killing me.”

Want to guess which one is causing all the trouble? Not hard, I know.

Okay, one of my pledges this new year (both for my own mental well-being and so as not to depress everyone around me) is to not endlessly disseminate devastating news about how the planet is dying. I assume if you are reading this blog you are already well aware of this, so I intend to focus more on positive actions I am trying to take to bring my life into balance with the planet. Figuring out how to live, how to eat and how to leave as small a footprint as feasible is worth doing. If I share what I learn and do, and others share, maybe we will be able to transform our modern, consumerist, materialist, carbon-spewing lifestyles into lives that give due consideration to the planet and all the other species trying to survive on it despite human-induced climate change and destruction of habitat.

But I am taking note of this story about how the human species is relentlessly endangering other primate species because it illustrates something important (beyond the fact that humans are the primary existential threat to the rest of the planet): the choices that you and I make in our own lives ripple all the way out to remote forests and impact remote primate species.

To wit:

Primates are also threatened by the wholesale destruction of forests to make way for agriculture. In the Amazon, the jungle is being converted to cattle ranches and soybean fields, while in Madagascar, rice paddies are taking the place of lemur forests.

Western countries are also helping push primates toward extinction. Palm oil can be found in everything from doughnuts to lipstick to biodiesel fuel. New palm oil plantations are completely replacing forests in Southeast Asia — one of the most primate-diverse parts of the world.

Even cellphones can add to the risks. In central Africa, miners go into rain forests to dig for an ore called coltan that ends up in phone circuits. Those miners hunt for their meals. “They live on primates,” said Dr. Rylands.

So whether we eat beef and other meat (much of the world’s soy is grown to feed livestock), and how often we feel the need to upgrade our smartphones, are two choices we face that have a traceable impact on the survival and future of other primate (as well as many other) species.

Figuring out how to make planet-friendlier choices, and how and why they make a difference, is something I have been doing a lot more of in recent years. And it is something I am interested in continuing to do in a serious way going forward. In fact my aim is to design a modern, happy, meaningful life that celebrates and helps sustain the planet rather than destroy it. And if I do, maybe others will join me in trying to lead that life.

I tend to think of this approach to living as Earthism, because it emphasizes the idea that we humans, for moral and existential reasons, should abandon the idea that our well-being, our comfort, our interests are paramount. Instead, we should seek lives that nurture and sustain all the beauty and diversity we have been endowed with, and elevate the interests and well-being of all the extraordinary and complex ecosystems, and nonhuman species, which define our unique planet.

It’s going to be an interesting, and hopefully uplifting, journey.

Tommy The Chimp Still Not A Person

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Yesterday, a New York State Appellate Division issued its ruling on the Nonhuman Rights Project’s petition to grant Tommy the chimpanzee personhood rights:

Noting that the Nonhuman Rights Project ”requests that this Court enlarge the common-law definition of ‘person’ in order to afford legal rights to an animal,” the Court’s decision was that “We decline to do so, and conclude that a chimpanzee is not a “person” entitled to the rights and protections afforded by the writ of habeas corpus.

NHRP goes on to explain in detail why it disagrees with the decision, and says it will appeal the decision to the New York Court of Appeals.

While it would have been great if the Appellate Court had granted Tommy a writ of habeus corpus, establishing basic personhood rights to an animal for the first time (and, importantly, opening the door to his tiny cage in a trailer park so he could be moved to a sanctuary), the refusal to grant Tommy basic rights was not necessarily a surprise. This has probably always been a question that will be decided at the highest appeals court level (though it would have been nice to go to that level with a positive ruling to defend), and now the argument has just moved one level up the chain.

But the next level, the New York Court of Appeals, is the final level. If NHRP does not win the argument before that court, then that will put an end to its efforts to win personhood rights for a chimp via Tommy. The chance that its arguments for any single animal might fail is the reason NHRP originally launched legal bids on behalf of four chimps, to try to improve the odds of a successful outcome.

So if Tommy’s case doesn’t come to a successful conclusion, the hope is that Kiko, Hercules or Leo will deliver. Stay tuned. This is the long game.

“Kiko, Hercules, Leo, I may need your help.” Photo: Pennebaker Hegedus Films


Big News Of The Day: NonHuman Rights Project Files Suit For Chimpanzees

“I’d really like the right to get out of here.”

We may talk about animal rights, but animals in fact have no legal rights. The NonHuman Rights Project is determined to change that, and win basic “personhood” rights for nonhuman animals, and has now filed its first lawsuit, on behalf of a chimpanzee named Tommy. Similar lawsuits will follow this week:

This morning at 10.00 E.T., the Nonhuman Rights Project filed suit in Fulton County Court in the state of New York on behalf of Tommy, a chimpanzee, who is being held captive in a cage in a shed at a used trailer lot in Gloversville.

This is the first of three suits we are filing this week. The second will be filed on Tuesday in Niagara Falls on behalf of Kiko, a chimpanzee who is deaf and living in a private home. And the third will be filed on Thursday on behalf of Hercules and Leo, who are owned by a research center and are being used in locomotion experiments at Stony Brook University on Long Island.

The lawsuits ask the judge to grant the chimpanzees the right to bodily liberty and to order that they be moved to a sanctuary that’s part of the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance (NAPSA), where they can live out their days with others of their kind in an environment as close to the wild as is possible in North America.

Establishing some semblance of legal rights for animals is the new frontier for “animal rights,” and potentially the most powerful strategy possible to change the way in which humans relate to animals. Much more on the lawsuits being launched this week here.

Stay tuned….

Restricting Medical Research On Chimps

I have no doubt that the next great evolution in humanity’s relationship with animals is a steady expansion of animal rights that will start to elevate the most social and intelligent animals to an approximation of “personhood.”. I don’t know how fast it will happen,  but I do believe that it will happen and that, say 100 years from now, people looking back on the way in which animals are treated today–in food production, in entertainment, and in medical research–will view us as certainly unenlightened and perhaps even barbaric.

There is a lot of momentum in the movement to bestow person-like rights on cetaceans. And the arguments are both fascinating and compelling:

There is similar energy in the effort to elevate the rights of primates and chimpanzees (also intelligent and social), and with regard to chimpanzees this is especially poignant as, unlike cetaceans, they are used for medical research.

Happily, the Institute Of Medicine, which recently completed a detailed study of chimpanzees in medical research at the behest of the National Institutes Of Health, has proposed new guidelines which hopefully will severely curtail (and eventually eliminate) the use of chimps by medical researchers.

It is a very complex issue because chimps arguably do have unique research value when it comes to finding cures for some human diseases (I don’t hold out much hope that humanity will stop entirely subordinating animal welfare to human welfare anytime soon–though I support the ethical argument to do just that). But the guidelines would at least be a significant improvement and set a much higher bar for chimp research. They are:

  • That the knowledge gained must be necessary to advance the public’s health;
  • There must be no other research model by which the knowledge could be obtained, and the research cannot be ethically performed on human subjects; and
  • The animals used in the proposed research must be maintained either in ethologically appropriate physical and social environments (i.e., as would occur in their natural environment) or in natural habitats.

These sorts of debates, and human consensus, move painfully slowly. But over years the accumulation of these incremental steps will add up to real change (I hope). I just wish that the process could be fast-forwarded from its current glacial pace.

UPDATE: Have to add this, since this 14-year old girl is a powerful example of how the future could look very different. You can imagine how an impassioned young person like this might help pick up the pace of change.

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