It’s great to see concern for primate apes taking a rational turn that can actually be in their interests:
In recent years, wildlife sanctuaries, conservation organizations, and animal rights groups have told the public to stop touching chimpanzees and other wild animals. National Geographic, PETA, and even Instagram draw explicit links between human touch and harm. They discourage wildlife enthusiasts from visiting “fake sanctuaries” that let tourists play with wild animals. Sanctuary accreditation organizations, such as the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA), can refuse to accredit facilities that allow visitors to touch primates. They say that visitor illness, easily communicated through touch, can kill a young chimpanzee. Moreover, this touch—even if it is playful—can harm chimps and other wild animals by igniting a desire for human interaction.
These organizations are trying to educate a public that seems largely unaware of the link between playful touch and harm.
Rachel Hogan, a conservationist originally from the U.K., directs Ape Action Africa (AAA), the largest primate sanctuary in Cameroon. At the close of an interview, Hogan told me, “The truth is, we aren’t chimps. We aren’t really their mothers. We can’t give them what their mothers could have. Their mothers are gone.”
Hogan’s point gets to the heart of harm. Sanctuaries try to transition infants from human care to living with other chimpanzees as soon as possible, because human touch is not enough for a chimp. We give Gnala the best life we can. We use her vocalizations. We dig in the dirt next to her. We move through the forest with her on our backs. But our touch will always fall short. Amy Hanes, “For Chimps, Human Touch Can Hurt” at Sapiens
Good for them. If a well-to-do idler wants to pretend that his spaniel requires psychoanalysis, life’s rotten for that individual dog. But dogs are hardly going extinct. The fact that chimpanzees are an endangered species means that it’s important to understand them as animals who need a specific habitat, not as pre-humans entering the Stone Age.
Note: One big problem is that living in a human group does not prepare a chimpanzee for the everyday level of violence that is normal in a chimp group.
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