Excerpt from Drawing
the Line - Science and the Case for Animal Rights by Steven M. Wise
In a Ugandan Rain Forest
I was leaning against an ebony tree, beginning the third day of a five-day field seminar graciously provided by Richard Wrangham, one of the world's great experts on chimpanzees and, it so happens, the great-great-great-grandson of the famous English abolitionist William Wilberforce. My wife, two independent Vermont filmmakers, Paul Garstki and Donna Thomas, Wrangham, and I were in Kanywara in the Kibale National Forest at the far western end of Uganda. It was our second dawn together.
first morning, we had risen at 4:30 to "unnest" chimpanzees.
That meant following, by flashlight, a native Ugandan tracker, Donor Muhangyi,
and a Spanish graduate student, Maria Llorente, who was interested in
where you step!"
hour later than usual, Big Brown, a large male, finally peered over the
lip of his nest.
That second morning, we didn't unnest the chimpanzees because they had built their nightly nests in a part of the rain forest nearly impenetrable to humans. Instead, we made for another species of fig tree, its fruit just ripening, to which Wrangham believed the chimpanzees would probably head when they woke up. And that's what they did.
heard them coming a long way off, screaming, hooting, and drumming on
trees. Wrangham told us to bunch together and lower ourselves to appear
fewer and less threatening. Suddenly, five males burst into view as they
traveled single file along a path that crossed almost in front of us.
Each one hesitated when he spotted us, looked us up and down, then hurled
himself up into the fig tree.
was the core of the male power," Wrangham said.
the chimpanzees were off. And so were we. After five exhausting hours,
we struck a fork in the trail and, worn out, quit the pursuit. We decided
to rest and refresh ourselves at the edge of the left fork before heading
back to camp. Three minutes later, a surprised chimpanzee stumbled onto
our group. We looked at him. He looked at us, then took the right fork
and disappeared. Wrangham suspected he had been trailing us because he
knew we were trailing other chimpanzees and would lead him to them.
Developmental and comparative psychologist Michael Tomasello, who has spent most of two decades studying apes, finds chimpanzees "very sophisticated creatures cognitively." A mountain of evidence supports him. Chimpanzees are probably self-conscious. They use insight, not just trial and error, to solve problems. They have complex mental representations, understand cause and effect, imitate, and cooperate. They compare objects and relationships between objects. They use and make tools. Given appropriate opportunity and motivation, they may teach, deceive, self-medicate, and empathize. They transmit culture between generations.
raised nearly as human have learned thousands of English words at the
sophisticated level of a human three-year-old and understand that word
order is vital to sentence meaning. In the manner of a human two-year-old
they produce hundreds of words and use simple grammar. They point and
mentally share the world with humans and other apes. They use symbols
in play. They count, perhaps to ten, and add simple numbers and the occasional
They remember. Ai, a symbol-using chimpanzee, remembers five numbers and their positions for twenty seconds after they disappear from a computer monitor-as good a result, or better, than most human preschoolers. Thirty-four times over nine months, Panzee, a language-trained chimpanzee, watched as objects she desired were hidden outside her enclosure. To obtain them, she had to recruit uninformed humans to help. Up to three days later, Panzee would point toward a hiding place, gesture "HIDE," pant or vocalize while pointing, or use one of 256 abstract keyboard symbols to steer the human where she wanted.
Chimpanzees flourish in rough-and-tumble societies so intensely political and devious they are dubbed "Machiavellian." Their "political intelligence" allows them to make "complicated assessments of power situations," says anthropologist Christopher Boehm. In four chimpanzee societies, two captive, two wild, male and female chimpanzees formed coalitions to subdue the despotic power of an alpha male. Boehm says this action demands such "substantial cognitive ability" that it would be "foolish to deny intentionality where the goal is so unambiguous and the actors are obviously collaborating. It would seem that both wild and captive chimpanzees are able to arrive at and essentially agree upon political strategies, sometimes long-term ones, and shape their societies on that basis."
confirmed what Wrangham told me. With Tomasello and his colleague, Josep
Call, Hare devised a way to test whether chimpanzees know what other chimpanzees
see and know by exploiting the natural preference of subordinate chimpanzees
to avoid competing for food with dominant chimpanzees. When subordinates
saw that dominants could see food they could see, they surrendered it
to the dominants. But when they saw that a dominant could not see food
they could see, they surreptitiously retrieved it, waited until the dominant
had gone before consuming it, and sometimes even gave a false signal that
kept the dominant away. Hare thought the most interesting finding was
that when subordinate chimpanzees in one test became dominants in another
test, they acted in the way "you would predict if they are perspective-taking.
As dominants they want to monopolize all the food and so they take the
'at risk' piece of food first. Then they take the safely hidden piece."
In a second series of experiments, he and his colleagues asked whether
chimpanzees know what other chimpanzees know, tested whether one chimpanzee
could know what another had, or had not, recently seen, and found they
to camp. Wrangham opened a box and produced a chimpanzee's "doll."
This was one of several "dolls" that Wrangham had acquired since
he first saw Kakama playing with a "doll" years ago. Kakama
was an eight-year-old whose mother was pregnant when Wrangham spotted
him straddling a small log perhaps half his height. For the rest of that
morning, Kakama bumped the log behind him, dragged it onto tree nests,
played with it in his nest the way a mother would play with a baby, retrieved
it when it tumbled thirty feet to the ground, balanced it on his neck,
used it as a walking stick, and in general, Wrangham says, "carried
that piece of wood in every way imaginable." But Wrangham wasn't
able to retrieve the log-doll and told no one what he had seen. Four months
later, two of Wrangham's field assistants spotted Kakama doing the same
thing and watched for three hours. When he had finished playing, the assistants
snatched the log away and labeled it "Kakama's Toy Baby." That
was the doll Wrangham showed me. He said they had spotted other chimpanzees
playing with other logs in the same way. He had those logs neatly labeled,
and filed away, too.
What was an American lawyer doing unnesting chimpanzees in the black predawn of the Kibale mountains? Or examining chimpanzee dolls near where they had been dropped in the forest? Or hurrying along narrow wooded paths to glimpse chimpanzees on the hunt for monkeys? In an earlier book, Rattling the Cage: Toward Legal Rights for Animals, I argued that, as the common law stands, normal adult chimpanzees are entitled to basic legal rights because of certain advanced mental abilities they possess. But I never had the privilege of seeing them in the wild, only captive in laboratories and zoos. Now I could engage in a five-day seminar on chimpanzee behavior and cognition conducted by an expert and confirm for myself that chimpanzees possessed these abilities.
will look beyond chimpanzees to test the eligibility of normal adult members
of seven other species to basic legal rights. I argue that mental abilities
that add up to "practical autonomy" are sufficient to entitle
any being to basic legal rights. The question is who has them? We'll see
how my son, Christopher, mentally developed from an infant not entitled
to rights (at least on the ground of autonomy) because of his lack of
mental abilities to an entitled child enjoying practical autonomy. Then
it's on to nonhuman animals, whom we will compare to Christopher whenever
didn't have to cross an ocean to meet some of these animals. We'll look,
surprisingly, at honeybees, whose brains are a millionth the size of ours,
and learn about their unexpectedly complex mental abilities. We'll meet
Alex, an African Grey parrot living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Alex
has demonstrated extraordinary mental abilities for an animal with a walnut-sized
brain. He can understand, even speak, English words taught him by MIT
professor Irene Pepperberg. We'll encounter Marbury, my family dog. He
is a member of a species whose mental abilities, again surprisingly for
"man's best friend," we have just begun to study formally. We
have already learned that dogs read human beings like a book.
flew to Kenya in search of Echo, an African elephant, and other elephants
who live in Amboseli National Park. We'll see that elephants intensely
experience a wide variety of emotions, may be self-conscious, have long
and accurate memories, communicate, and solve problems. Closer to home,
I visited Chantek, a signing orangutan, at his home in Zoo Atlanta. Chantek
deceives, pretends, and uses a simple sign language of one hundred and
fifty signs, marked by a rudimentary grammar. I called on Koko, a world-famous
lowland gorilla, at her home near San Francisco, California. Koko has
repeatedly scored between 70 and 95 on standard human child intelligence
tests, routinely uses hundreds of signs to communicate, and understands
thousands of English words. Both Chantek and Koko easily pass the standard
test for self-awareness. Occasionally a door did not open. I was unable
to obtain permission to meet Phoenix and Ake, two Atlantic bottle-nosed
dolphins, from Louis Herman, the professor who has taught them a simple
artificial language at Kewalo Basin in Honolulu, Hawaii.
I really wanted to speak to Herman, for it isn't just the nonhuman animals I met who make this book what it is but the scientists who have spent years working with them; and not just Herman but Pepperberg, who has patiently probed Alex's mind for twenty-five years, Cynthia Moss and Joyce Poole, who know Echo and her family intimately, Lyn Miles and Penny Patterson, who raised and taught Chantek and Koko sign language from her earliest infancy, and Brian Hare, who is just begining to tell us what dogs might think. A glance at the acknowledgments will reveal that I have communicated by letter, e-mail, telephone, and often face-to-face with nearly five dozen of the world's foremost experts in human, ape, dolphin, parrot, dog, elephant, and honeybee cognition, from four continents: Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America. What you will read about the minds of the animals we meet is a product of these scientists' generous teaching and criticisms.
Based on the present state of scientific knowledge about the minds of these animals, I will argue that the case for legal rights for some of them is overwhelming; for others, currently not. But each determination will be saturated in the highest legal values and principles, free of the pervasive legal bias against nonhuman animals, and deeply anchored in scientific fact. To deny the most deserving amongst nonhuman animals basic rights is arbitrary, biased, and therefore unjust. It undermines, and finally destroys, every rationale for basic human rights as well. And states without justice, wrote St. Augustine, are nothing but robber bands.
Reprinted with Permission by Perseus Publishing, A Member of the Perseus Books Group -- Copyright © 2002