Half an hour before midnight one April evening, I was exploring the Stony Brook University Medical Center with five friends when we saw something strange. A set of gray locked doors sported a poster with what appeared to be a chimpanzee and the words, “X Congresso Brasileiro de Zoologia.” Another sign bared the name of a primatologist with a Ph.D..
One friend exclaimed, “So this is where Stony Brook hides the monkeys!”
What mysterious room had I stumbled upon?
It may be the room that contains Hercules and Leo, two young chimpanzees whose legal representatives believe are illegally caged at Stony Brook.
Unbeknownst to them, these two animals are the focus of a recent New York Times article titled, “Judge Orders Stony Brook University to Defend Its Custody of 2 Chimps” by Jesse McKinley. Justice Barbara Jaffe of the New York Supreme Court ordered Stony Brook officials to explain why they are holding the two animals in captivity at a May 6 hearing. So far, the university has not explained why it possesses the chimpanzees, who are believed to be perhaps seven or eight years old. Although this hearing is simply a way to allow SBU to present its case in court, the Nonhuman Rights Project, an animal rights nonprofit organization, views this as an opportunity to prosecute the issue.
When I look at a chimp, I see a furry creature with knowledgeable eyes, large ears, long limbs and human-like hands that remind me so much of my own. I am not quite as hairy as a chimp (although my mother jokingly calls me Chewbacca during the winter), but my case is evident: chimps are very similar to humans and possess “personhood,” the quality of being an individual.
According to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the genetic difference between the chimps and the human genome is a striking 1.2 percent. The New York Times article “Considering the Humanity of Nonhumans” by James Gorman also reveals that chimps have demonstrated that they can recognize themselves in mirror reflections, as well as possess a sense for the future. They may not be able to solve Calculus II problems or play Beethoven’s “Für Elise” on the piano, but they are still autonomous, living creatures. Therefore, we must protect the rights that they cannot articulately advocate for themselves.
I believe that incarcerated chimpanzees should be either placed in sanctuaries or released into the wild, unless they are being used for experiments that do not harm them and also benefit humanity. According to the organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, more commonly known as PETA, “more than 900 chimpanzees still languish in laboratories in the United States, with a many as 80 percent of them simply warehoused because there is no longer a need to use them in experiments.” Many of these chimpanzees succumb to depression and exhibit antisocial behavior, anxiety, self-harm and loss of appetite.
If the two Stony Brook chimps are among those warehoused, unused chimpanzees, they should be liberated from their cages. During the May 6 hearing, Stony Brook will defend the custody of these two animals. Hopefully, Hercules and Leo will join the rest of their liberated brethren.