Animal Defenders International

 

Animal Defenders International

The Primate Nations: Introduction

Posted: 1 September 2006

There are growing calls for an end to the use of nonhuman primates in research. In this report Animal Defenders International (ADI) examines the similarities and differences between the primate species (including our own) and discusses the use of nonhuman primates in laboratories and the alternatives that are available to replace the use of animals in scientific and medical research.

There are also moves to establish special rights and protection for the Great ape species (chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans) because of their similarity to us; their intelligence, their ability to feel and express emotion, their behavioural and social complexity. ADI supports the proposal of the Great Ape Project for certain rights for apes, we support the UN’s Great Ape Survival Project and also the suggestion that chimpanzees be reclassified to the human genus – from Pan troglodytes to Homo troglodytes.

Almost all of the primate species share more than 90% of their genetic make up with us, with chimpanzees and humans differing by as little as 2% of DNA. The similarities in behaviour, emotions, and intellectual performance between ourselves and our fellow primates are striking.

For example chimp babies need the same things as human children, they need to be held, loved, talked to and played with. Studies have shown that chimps are highly intelligent and co-operative; they nurture family bonds, adopt orphans, mourn, practice self-medication and engage in struggles for power. They also exhibit many of the same emotions once thought to be exclusive to humans such as jealousy, envy, compassion, greed, sloth, avarice and malice.

Even our slightly more distant relatives – the monkeys – can also display similar emotions and intelligence. And, whilst chimpanzees may be our closest family, it is acknowledged that all the primate species are intelligent and dextrous, can problem solve, live in important social structures, and require a stimulating environment.

Since Darwin first placed chimpanzees on our family tree, it has been acknowledged that we share a common ancestry with chimps – and less recently in evolutionary terms – with the other primates as well. These are our cousins in the animal kingdom and all have a capacity to suffer greatly in captivity – as we would.

Some people might argue that in the case of scientific research the similarities between ourselves and the other primates justify their use in experiments. We believe that this argument fails on both scientific and moral grounds.

In nature, we can see the richness of diversity that just a small percentage of difference in DNA has made. These key differences at the cellular level make a world of difference when transferring the results of laboratory tests from other primates to humans, making laboratory results misleading. Moreover, our closeness to the other primates means that we can comprehend their suffering – it does not make them laboratory-sized people.

Next: Primate intelligence, communication and emotions

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