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Too Sentient for Their Own Good

Posted on 05 August 2011 by Jerry

June 16, 2011. San Francisco, Animal Life Experience

At least four animals besides humans possess self recognition; great apes (excluding gorillas), bottlenose dolphins, Asian elephants and the corvid bird family including crows, ravens and magpies.  These animals recognize they are looking at themselves when they see their own image in a mirror according to results from “mirror and mark test” experiments. In addition, excluding the corvid bird family, these animals are known to have a more highly developed right prefrontal cortex and to exhibit empathy when interacting with others. In human beings this part of the brain is believed to contribute to enhanced problem solving and a broader range of emotions. Unfortunately for these non human sentient creatures we do not always respect their awareness of their own existence and the other capabilities that go along with it

Two recent articles about chimpanzees used for invasive medical research and dolphins in captivity ask if these animals are too smart for this type of treatment.  They suggest our behavior amounts to animal cruelty. A Nature article published on June 16, 2011 entitled Chimpanzee Research on Trial, by Meredith Wadman, reports on the increasing public pressure for the United States to end its use of chimpanzees in biomedical  research.  The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have asked the Institute of Medicine (the medical branch of the National Academy of Sciences) to render an opinion about whether the government should continue its practice of supporting biomedical research on chimpanzees – human kind’s closest living relative.  The formal opinion is scheduled to be released at the end of 2011.  The NIH bowed to public pressure and outrage when the public reacted to the NIH plans to move 186 semi-retired chimps back into active medical research

The author reports that the United States is unique in that no other country in the world other than Gabon carries out invasive experiments on chimpanzees. Many countries have outlawed chimp research completely including the United Kingdom, Australia, Sweden, New Zealand, the Netherlands and the European Union in 2010.  Controversy has grown since an airing on ABC’s Nightline of a Humane Society undercover expose´ of treatment of chimps at Louisiana’s New Iberia Research Center.  The animal terror and abuse revealed on the documentary prompted strong reactions from the public, the Humane Society, and Jane Goodall.

We do not have a good history of medical research practices having freely used unsuspecting people in the past; soldiers, oppressed minorities, developing country populations, convicts and medically institutionalized patients.  We are out of step with the rest of the civilized world which has discovered that ever-more sophisticated in vitro methods make chimps unnecessary.

A second article, by David Grimm in the April 29, 2011 issue of Science magazine asks Are Dolphins Too Smart for Captivity? A pioneering 1950’s brain researcher named John Lilly became convinced that dolphins were highly intelligent and had a complex vocabulary.  In the 1970’s Lou Herman, the founder of a research-only dolphin facility in Honolulu, Hawaii showed that dolphins understood two artificial languages – one based on electronic sounds and another on a trainer’s hand gestures.  He reported that they grasped grammar and syntax and could comprehend human pointing, a capability that eludes chimpanzees.

Biopsychologist Lori Marino of Emory University in Atlanta is reported to have observed that dolphin tanks are chemically treated, bereft of other marine life, and just a tiny fraction of the hundred-square-kilometer ranges these animals are used to.  Further she says it’s no wonder that intelligent social dolphins swim in circles and jump out of their pools, and that these stresses contribute to their premature deaths from gastroenteritis, fungal infections and other ailments.  “You can’t replicate the natural settings for these animals.”  A joint 2009 Humane Society and World Society for the Protection of Animals report concluded “The totality of the captive experience for marine mammals is so contrary to their natural experience that it should be rejected outright.”

Background: In Beyond Animal, Ego and Time, in Chapter 6: Human Uniqueness there is considerable discussion about self recognition in animals and the implications of the highly developed right prefrontal cortex in some mammals, including Homo sapiens.  Chapter 9: A Positive Life Experience Imperative and Chapter 15: Enhancing the Life Experience elaborate on the need for us to focus our efforts on improving the collective world life experience and in ending animal cruelty in all its forms.  Finally Chapter 16: Transcending Egocentricity states in part that “As much as we can benefit from a new thought, we can be handicapped by holding on too long to an old one….It is time to recognize evolutionary development of a new level of consciousness that extends beyond self serving behavior.”  We need to let these animals have opportunities for positive life experiences.  We need to end experimentation on chimpanzees and return marine mammals to the wild.

Use the following links for more information:  http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110615/full/474268a.html












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