Should apes have human rights based on sign language?
In today’s society apes are considered to be animals and are given no rights even considerably close to humans, in fact, they have no rights to begin with. But rarely is the question asked, should apes have rights based on sign language and other communication skills? Absolutely not. Rights are a human concept, based on the idea of individuals, who, acting independently or having the freedom to do so should be treated equally by law. Animals don’t act independent nor have the freedom to do so. They cannot take responsibility for their own actions, and they cannot – like humans – give enough effort to provide for or influence a society alone. In fact, they do not have a very well put together social group. Therefore, it makes no sense to give animals human rights just because they understand some parts of a human language and some sign language.
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But what about the questions of whether animals should have any special protection, such as protection from harm from owners or “caretakers” as they call them, or should they be kept from cages and set free in their natural habitat? Monkeys live together in social groups. All members contribute by helping to conserve, find, and defend food sources, raise their offspring, etc, just as people in a society do. But it isn’t possible to live in a social group without some way or form of communication. Members of a social group need ways to influence and inform each other. This is what influences language. Monkeys have evolved many ways of communicating, including visual looks, auditory calls, etc. Some of their visual signals are very intriguing, like the long, curled tongue of the tamarin monkey, that signals to her mate when she wants to birth her babies. But visual signals only work if they can be seen. In the forest that most gorillas and apes live in, auditory and visual calls are a much more useful and powerful tool. Calls and vocalizations can also be changed through pitch, loudness, and duration, which means a vast list of messages can be transmitted through one ape to another. Alarm calls, territorial calls, food calls, personal identification calls, dominance calls, etc. these are the basic communication skills that animals need to successfully live in groups rather than be living on their own. But some developed more complex and specialized forms of auditory communication. Researchers and Specialists have spent years trying to learn how apes communicate and find out if they are able to learn human signals and language.
In September of 1965 in West Africa the chimpanzee Washoe was born, and was one of the first apes to learn sign language as part of a research experiment on animal language acquisition. In the ape’s time on Earth, she learned exactly three hundred and fifty signs of communication. One day, one of Washoe’s caretakers who was pregnant missed work for a few months after she had an unfortunate miscarriage. Roger Fouts reviews the following situation–“People who should be there for her and aren’t are often given the cold shoulder–her way of informing them that she’s miffed at them. Washoe greeted Kat [Washoe’s caretaker] in just this way when she finally returned to work with the chimps. Kat made her apologies to Washoe, then decided to tell her the truth, signing “MY BABY DIED”. Washoe stared at her, then looked down. She finally peered into Kat’s eyes again and carefully signed “CRY”, touching her cheek and drawing her finger down the path a tear would make on a human (Chimpanzees don’t shed tears)”. Also, when shown an image of herself, Washoe was asked what she saw and she signaled back “Me, Washoe”. This shows that apes are definitely capable of self-awareness.
Another ape named Koko (born July 4, 1971) is a female gorilla born in the San Francisco Zoo known for learning a huge amount of signs, of a language that his caregiver Patterson calls “gorilla sign language”, or GSL. Koko’s training began at the age of one, where she was exposed to human language, and by the time of her death, she understood over two thousand English words Koko is one of the few nonhuman animals that had pets. One year for Christmas Koko asked for a pet cat in 1983 so they gave her a lifelike toy cat, but Koko signed “sad” many times. So on her birthday in July 1984, she was able to choose a cat from a litter of abandoned kittens. Koko selected a gray cat and named him “All Ball”. According to Penny Patterson, Koko’s owner, Koko cared for the kitten as if it was a baby gorilla, being very gentile and loving. Sadly, in December of 1984, All Ball escaped from Kokos cage, and was hit by a car. Later, Patterson said that when she signaled to Koko that All Ball had died, and Koko signed “Bad, sad, bad” and “Frown, cry, frown, sad”. Recently, to celebrate her birthday in July 2015, Koko was presented another litter of kittens, Picking two of them, she named one Miss Black and one Miss Grey. These examples show that apes to can feel, and If we abuse apes, it goes against our human nature, because we know animals can feel pain and emotion to, and there’s no good reasoning that this can’t be law, yet not part of human rights.
My argument is that we should always value the interest of humans over and above those of animals, which is why researching all animals- which can further medical advance and human knowledge – is morally the best thing to do. Animal research could help to decide how smart monkeys really are, and how we should treat their kind as a whole. Based on Steven Wises research, it appears that animals such as apes possess certain cognitive abilities such as communication skills, attention, memory, judgement, problem solving, decision making, comprehension, etc., that make them smart enough to be free rather than in a cage at a zoo handled by humans to provide entertainment and big business. Steven Wise once said, “For four thousand years, a thick and impenetrable legal wall has separated all human from all nonhuman animals. On one side, even the most trivial interests of a single species – ours – are jealously guarded. We have assigned ourselves, alone among the million animal species, the status of “legal persons.” On the other side of that wall lies the legal refuse of an entire kingdom, not just chimpanzees and bonobos but also gorillas, orangutans, and monkeys, dogs, elephants, and dolphins. They are “legal things.” Their most basic and fundamental interests – their pains, their lives, their freedoms – are intentionally ignored, often maliciously trampled, and routinely abused. Ancient philosophers claimed that all nonhuman animals had been designed and placed on this earth just for human beings. Ancient jurists declared that law had been created just for human beings. Although philosophy and science have long since recanted, the law has not”.
In conclusion, apes shouldn’t have human rights, but they should be free and have rights of their own kind, made for their own kind, which should be bound by law, because they show several cases of self-awareness, communication skills, knowledge, attention, working memory, judgment, reasoning, problem solving and decision making, comprehension and production of language, etc. Several apes have shown these skills and though they may not be as smart as humans, they are smart enough and capable enough of living in their own society where they should be able to roam free instead of being shown off in a zoo or being sold as product
Barlow, Rich Something. “Should Chimps Have the Rights of People?” Bostonia. Rich Barlow, 19 Sept. 2013. Web. 07 Feb. 2017.
OstlerKCL, Sophia. “Should Monkeys Be Granted Human Rights?” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, n.d. Web. 07 Feb. 2017.
“Should Animals Have The Same Rights As People?” Popular Science. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Feb. 2017.
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