What’s the difference between an ape and a monkey? In high school I would have answered: a tail. In college I would have answered: somewhere between 3%–6% genetic differences. In law school I will answer: the amount of legal protections available to the animals.
Zoologically, great apes include bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans. As defined by proposed legislation, great apes include the gibbons of Family Hylobatidae, also known as the lesser apes. The European Union ended research on captive great apes last year. Today, there are currently several proposed measures to extend protections to captive apes in the United States. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services is currently reviewing whether or not to list all chimpanzees as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Wild chimpanzees are currently listed as endangered, but captive chimpanzees are only listed as threatened. The current “split listing” permits the use of chimpanzees in research and to be kept as pets. In April, Congressman Roscoe Bartlett introduced the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act of 2011. If passed, the Act will retire all federally owned apes used in research and for breeding.
Monkeys belong to different families within the Primate Order. Numerous behavioral studies have been conducted on monkeys. Some of those results, including emotional capacities and language abilities, were highlighted by ABC comparing humans to baboons. In a more recent study published in January, scientists found that baboons have closer social relationships with friends than family. Most recently, another study published in the September issue of Psychological Sciences concluded that baboons are capable of reasoning through analogies—an ability previously thought to be uniquely human, or at least restricted to great apes.
There are approximately 1,000 apes in research labs in the United States and approximately 112,000 monkeys. One of the express findings of the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act is that “great apes are highly intelligent and social animals.” Some welfare and ape liberation groups rely on apes’ cognitive abilities to justify why apes deserve more protections than other primates. In light of the many studies on monkeys’ psychological capacities, I have to wonder if the intelligence argument can still logically be used to support protecting apes and not other simians.
Some activists also claim that apes deserve special protections or rights because they are genetically closer to us than other animals. Scientific studies show that humans share between 95%–98% of our DNA with chimpanzees and around 94%–97% of our DNA with other apes. We share 93% of our DNA with monkeys. Do a tail and an additional few percent of unshared DNA justify differing legal treatment of the two? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. And if it doesn’t, then we have to ask ourselves why we are willing to leave over 100,000 monkeys in conditions from which we seek to free apes.
Filed under: animal advocacy, animal law Tagged: | animal advocacy, animal ethics, animal experimentation, animal law, animal welfare, apes, bonobos, chimpanzees, Endangered Species Act, gorillas, monkeys, orangutans, vivisection