Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

ADI challenges Yerkes Primate Research Centre to defend its ethic

Posted: 8 November 2006


A recent study carried out in part by Yerkes National Primate Research Center has found that elephants are now among a select group of species – including humans, apes and dolphins – who can recognize themselves in mirrors.

While it’s tempting to immediately commend Yerkes for participating in such a study to help us better understand our animal counterparts, we must first examine some additional research that has been carried out in part by Yerkes.

The following is excerpted from a document recently released by ADI and details a study at Yerkes involving chimpanzees – or Great Apes – in which 9 of the subjects “mysteriously” died during the procedures.

"56 chimpanzees were subjected to two types of gesture tests – the first looking at ‘manual gesturing’, the second at ‘reaching’. In the first, the chimps were prompted to gesture by dangling pieces of food before their cages. Only one-armed gestures were recorded, and only those where the chimps’ fingers were thrust through the bars of the cage, signalling desire. The second test involved throwing a piece of food into the cages at a distance of at least three metres from the chimps. The arm used by the chimps to gather the food was then recorded.

Depending on the results, the chimps were grouped as either right- or non-right-handed. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) was then used to study asymmetries in the chimpanzees’ brains, to see whether the extent or nature of these asymmetries were related to a particular type of gesturing. Before the MRI took place, however, nine of the chimps had mysteriously died; it would seem that they were not killed intentionally but died of – one assumes – natural causes.

A huge question-mark surrounds the fate of the nine chimpanzees who died in the interval between the gesture tests and the MRI scans. While not, it seems, killed intentionally, it is nonetheless a great cause for concern that over 15% of the animals used – animals who normally live as long as 40-45 years – should have died of natural causes in what one presumes was a relatively short period of time. If the interval between the gesture tests and the MRI scans was in fact such that the natural death of so many chimps was understandable, this would itself undermine the findings of the research – since certain brain features might, conceivably, have developed subsequent to the initial tests. The remaining chimpanzees, while not operated upon invasively, were sedated, had coils fitted to their heads, and were scanned for up to 80 minutes at a time."

Whilst Yerkes appears to have been happy to take the plaudits for their part in the elephant study, one has to ask do their own researchers even take such research seriously? Or is it merely academic curiosity? Certainly, the treatment of chimpanzees at Yerkes would indicate that knowledge of the sentience of these animals has done little or nothing to protect them.

Chimpanzees have even communicated with us in our own language, yet still chimpanzees suffer and die in futile experiments – what more can they do to convince us to stop?

Click here to find out about the ADI campaign to protect primates

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