Sunday, 29 November 2015

On The Road To Damascus

I am reading Reason for Hope by Jane Goodall and there were so many things I wanted to excerpt along the way, her poems, her introduction, her mystical experiences (you can't live that close to nature and not have mystical experiences) and then I came to this chapter and discarded all other plans. It is the most important chapter in the book and I think she will forgive me for reproducing it in full. It bears the whole weight of her message. I think it was the reason for the book.

In October 1986, the pattern of my life changed forever. This was the indirect rest of the publication of The Chimpanzees of Gombe by Harvard University Press. In order to write that book I had struggled to master a great deal of information that biologists usually acquire as undergraduates -- topics such as the influence of hormones on aggression, sociobiological theory, and so on. It was hard work but worthwhile. Before expanding my knowledge I had felt ill at ease when talking to "proper" scientists. Snide remarks in the 1960s and 1970s about the "Geographic cover girl" had, I suspect, rankled more than I had admitted, even to myself. But the book was well received when it was finally published, and my self confidence had a terrific boost.

To celebrate the publication of this book, Dr Paul Heltne, director of the Chicago Academy of Sciences, suggested holding a conference: Understanding Chimpanzees. All the field biologists studying chimpanzees in Africa were invited, as were some working, noninvasively, in captive settings. It was an amazing gathering; almost all the great names in chimpanzee research were there. The event lasted four days; its after-effects lasted far longer. It wrought in me a cataclysmic change, similar, perhaps, to that described by Paul of Tarsus as he travelled on the road to Damascus, the experience that changed him from gentile to the most fervent and tireless of Jesus' disciples. When I arrived in Chicago I was a research scientist, planning the second volume of The Chimpanzees of Gombe. When I left I was already, in my heart, committed to conservation and education. Somehow I knew that Volume 2 would probably never be written -- certainly not while I was still active and filled with energy.

The content of the meeting was mainly scientific but there was a session on conservation. I think we were all shocked when we realised the extent to which the chimpanzees across Africa were vanishing. At the turn of the century there must have been as many as two million chimpanzees in 25 in 25 African nations, but during the last half of the 20th century their number had been reduced to less than 150,000, and only five countries had significant populations of 5,000 or more. And even in those remaining strongholds, chimpanzees were gradually and relentlessly losing ground to the needs of ever growing human populations. Trees were being razed for dwellings, firewood, charcoal and cultivation; logging and mining activities had penetrated ever deeper into the virgin forests and human infectious diseases to which chimpanzees were susceptible followed. People had settled along the roads, cutting down ever more trees, growing their crops, setting their snares, hunting. Dwindling chimpanzee populations had become increasingly fragmented and many groups were so small that inbreeding was inevitable: there was no hope of their long-term survival. In some countries in West and Central Africa, chimpanzees were hunted for food. They always had been, but whereas in the old days the hunters shot only enough meat for their villages, now hunting had become commercial. Hunters from town travelled  deep into the heart of the last remaining forests on logging trucks, shooting everything they could. Then they smoked or sun-dried the meat, loaded it onto the trucks, and took it to he towns. It was a commercial business -- the bush meat trade. It catered to the cultural preference of many people for the flesh of wild animals. (Years later it would be shown that chimpanzees carry a variant of the human HIV virus. It is not impossible that the virus may have crossed over to humans as a result of hunters butchering chimpanzees for meat)

Then there was the live animal trade. Even in places where chimps were not eaten, females were often killed so that their infants might be captured and sold, locally as pets, or for the international entertainment or medical research industries.

Another sobering session highlighted the conditions in which chimpanzees were kept in some medical research laboratories in the US and other parts of the world. What I learned shocked me to my core, leaving me with a burning passion to do something.

For 25 years I had lived my dream. I had gloried in the solitude of the forest, learning from some of the most fascinating creatures of our times. Now, with my newfound professional confidence, the time had come for me to use the knowledge I had acquired to try and help the chimps in their time of need. up until this point I had believed that there was nothing I could do that had not been sufficiently academic for me to stand up to those scientists engaged in medical research. And why on earth would politicians listen to anything I had to say? But now, after all the work I had put into writing The Chimpanzees of Gombe, I had the self-confidence to embark on visits to research laboratories where I had discussions with the scientists and the staff, official visits to the governments of various African countries, campaigns and lobbying efforts on behalf of chimpanzees in labs, circuses, and other degrading captive situations, and a no-stop series of lectures.

What if I had known, at that time, that my efforts would keep me more or less permanently on the road? That over the years ahead I would never remain in any one place for longer than three weeks, and that such "roosting periods" would only occur two or three times a year and would provide my only opportunities for serious writing? And that my precious time at Gombe would be whittled away until I was able to get there only a few times a year, for only one or two weeks at a time? Would I have been strong enough, committed enough, to start out along such a hard road? I was so utterly moved and shocked by  what I had learned at the conference that I believe the answer would have been yes. I didn't have to make the choice, for my life, it almost seems, was taken over by a force far too strong to fight against. Like Saint Paul I found myself unable to "kick against the pricks."

My campaign to help the chimpanzees in Africa would send me travelling to different chimp range countries with an exhibit called "Understanding Chimpanzees" which was the focal point of a Wildlife Awareness Week. I would meet (when possible) heads of state, environment and wildlife ministers and other government officials, and make contact with environmental organisations and anyone involved in chimpanzee research and/or conservation. I persuaded dedicated people within each country to organise these Wildlife Awareness Weeks. Every stop included school visits, public lectures, fund-raising events, and as many media appearances as possible. We managed to put on very successful events in Uganda, Burundi, Congo-Brazzaville, Angola, Sierra Leone, and Zambia. And, of course, several in Tanzania, in Kigoma as well as Dar es Salaam. Conservation projects were also initiated in Zaire, South Africa, and Kenya.

It was during those visits that I was brought face-to-face with the terrible plight of hundreds of orphan chimpanzees. They had been born into a Gombe-like world, but their mothers had been shot -- for meat or simply to steal their infants for the live animal trade. My concern would lead to the development of sanctuaries for chimps confiscated by government officials -- from the marketplace or from the roadside. And for others handed over to us by people who had bought them as pets. A chimpanzee is as strong as a man by the time he or she is six years old, and even for those who have lived as part of a human family, eating at the table, playing with the children, going on visits, the time eventually comes when they can no longer be kept safely in the house. They want to be chimps, and do chimp things: they resent discipline, they can inflict serious bites, they become potentially dangerous.

There were many who urged me not to get involved with orphan chimps. It would be costly, and we would have to care for them throughout their long lives (as long as 60 years) for they can almost never be returned to the wild. It would be better, I was told, to use the precious dollars to try and save the wild chimpanzees and their habitat. Others felt I should help the African people rather than "mere" animals. But for me there was no dilemma. I could not turn my back on the outstretched hands, the pleading eyes, the pathetic malnourished bodies of the orphans. And so our sanctuary programmes began. Each one became a focal point for a conservation education programme, especially for children. Moreover, as at Gombe, we tried to involve the local people, employing as many as we could, buying fruit and vegetables from them, boosting the local economy. The villagers, often for the first time, had an opportunity to observe the fascinating social interactions between chimpanzees. Tourists were fascinated too, and in Kenya and Uganda the sanctuaries eventually became self-supporting.

Whenever there were chimpanzees in local zoos I went to see how they were kept. Those visits were distressing; it was hardly surprising that the animals were starving, since the keepers themselves and their families often had very little to eat. We were able to make some improvements -- at zoos in Congo-Brazzaville, Uganda, Angola -- for small amounts of money and with the involvement of the local expatriate communities.

Visits to some of the medical research labs in America and Europe were worse, for although the chimps were well fed, their conditions were utterly bleak and sterile and filled with boredom. Moreover, there was no excuse: with government and industry putting billions of dollars into animal research, those responsible should have been able to provide a better environment. I shall never forget watching a videotape that had been secretly filmed by animal rights activists inside a federally funded laboratory, SEMA, Inc. It arrived, as had been promised, soon after the Chicago conference. I was in Bournemouth where I had just spent Christmas with my family. After watching this video we were all in tears, almost too shocked to speak. The footage showed young chimpanzees in  tiny cages, far gone into depression and despair. I had, of course, known that chimps were used in medical research, but I had never dreamed of conditions as bleak as those at SEMA, conditions that were totally unacceptable, and clearly psychologically damaging to the chimps. I wanted to speak out against such cruelty but I knew that I could not do thus on the evidence of a videotape -- I had to see the conditions with my own eyes. Could it really be so bad? I asked for permission to visit the laboratory; to my surprise permission was granted and a date was set in March 1987.

I absolutely, utterly dreaded that visit, and as the time came close, I felt almost physically sick. It would be my first confrontation with the white-coated scientists who, rightly or wrongly, I regarded as the enemy. When the day came, I was glad to have, in my pocket, a little card on which Vanne, knowing how anxious I was, had written two of Winston Churchill's famous wartime morale-boosting quotes to the nation: "This is not a time for doubts or weakness --- this is the supreme hour to which we are called," and "Arm yourselves, and be ye men of valour, and be in readiness for the conflict." SEMA, Inc. was in Rockville, Maryland, and my route from downtown Washington took me past the British embassy -- and lo! there was that marvellous bronze statue of Churchill standing outside, hand up in his famous V for victory sign. What a wonderful omen.

I needed every bit of courage I could muster to get through that visit. Even repeated viewing of the videotape had not prepared me for the stark reality. From the outside world of sunshine I was ushered through subterranean corridors into the dim basement world of the laboratory animal. We went into a room where infant chimpanzees, one or two years old, were crammed, two together, into tiny cages that measured (as I later learned) some 22 inches by 20 inches square, and 24 inches high. Each cage was inside an "isolette", which looked a bit like a microwave oven and permitted only filtered germ-free air to enter the chimps' prison. From the small window of each isolette  two infants peered at us. Not yet part of any experiment, they had already spent four months of quarantine in their tiny cells. At least they had each other, but not for long. Once their quarantine was over they would be separated, I was told, and placed in single isolettes, then infected with hepatitis or HIV or some other viral disease.

A juvenile female rocked from side to side, sealed off from the outside world. We needed a flashlight to see her properly. A technician was told to open her cage, lift her out. She sat in his arms like a rag doll, listless, apathetic. He did not speak to her. She did not look at him or try to interact with him in any way. She was either drugged, or far gone into despair. Her name, they said, was Barbie.

I am still haunted by the memory of Barbie's eyes and the eye of the other chimps I saw that day. They were dull and blank, like the eyes of people who have lost all hope; like the eyes of children I have seen in Africa, refugees who have lost their parents and their homes. Chimpanzee children are so like human children, in so many ways. They use similar movements to express their feelings. And their emotional needs are the same -- both need friendly contact and reassurance and fun and the opportunity to engage in wild bouts of play. And they need love.

When I emerged from the underground lab, shocked and sad, I was taken to sit at a table with SEMA and National Institutes of Health personnel. I realised that everyone was looking at me, questioningly. What on earth could I say? And then, as so often happens when my mind goes blank, words came.

"I think you all know what I felt in there," I said. "And since you are all decent, compassionate people, I assume you feel much the same." They could hardly contradict. I talked about the lives of chimpanzees in the wild, their close family ties, their long and carefree childhood.  I described their use of tools, their love of comfort, the rich variety of their diet, and some of our recent insights into the workings of the chimpanzee mind. Then I broached the idea of a workshop, a meeting at which biomedical scientists and veterinarians and technicians from labs could discuss, with field scientists and ethologists and animal welfare advocates, what could be done to improve conditions for the lab chimpanzees.

The workshop took place, but the NIH dropped out and the document that outlined what we considered the absolute minimum requirement for lab chimps as regards cage size, social life, and mental stimulation was largely disregarded by the regulatory body, the US Department of Agriculture. Nevertheless, over the years that document, refined during three other workshops, one in the Netherlands, has been useful in many ways in our fight for improvement in the lives of lab animals. Useful because it included the views of scientists and other people who worked in the labs themselves, and not just animal rights advocates.

I became convinced that it should be mandatory for all scientists who make use of the living bodies of animals, whatever the species, to kern something about the natural behaviour of those animals, and to see for themselves how their research affects the individuals involved. Only then can they balance the benefit (or hoped-for benefit) to humanity against the cost in suffering to the animals.

Chimpanzees, differing from us in the structure of DNA by only just over 1%, also resemble us closely in the composition of the blood and immune systems. They can catch or be infected with all human contagious diseases. And this, of course, is why they have been used as "guinea pigs" to try to find out more about human diseases such as hepatitis and AIDS, and to search for vaccines and cures. But it is important to realise that the anatomy of the brain and central nervous system of the Great Apes is also remarkably similar to ours -- more so than any other living creature. If physiological similarities between chimpanzee and man mean that a disease pattern is likely to follow a similar course in our two species and be affected by similar preventative or curative agents, is it not logical to infer that similarities in the central nervous systems of chimpanzees and ourselves may have led to corresponding similarities in cognitive abilities? And that chimpanzees may experience emotions similar to those of the human primate they so closely resemble? And have a similar capacity for suffering?

We cannot state, categorically, that chimpanzees experience mental states similar to those that we label, in ourselves, joy, sadness, fear, despair, and so on, but it seems likely. Certainly an infant chimpanzee has the same need for comfort and reassurance as an infant human. Chimpanzees do not shed tears, but those who understand the behaviour of human children have little difficulty in correctly identifying the emotional state of a young chimpanzee. It is because I believe, so absolutely, that chimpanzees, like us, can feel sad, depressed, and bored, that I find visits to research labs so chilling.

I first met JoJo, a fully adult male, in 1988. He had been in a standard lab cage, 5 feet by 5 feet square, 7 feet high, for at least 10 years. He was in a facility owned by New York University, the Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates -- LEMSIP. He and many others of the 300 or so chimpanzees earned their keep: their bodies were rented to pharmaceutical companies for testing drugs or vaccines. In particular, chimpanzees were thought, at that time, to be good models for learning about AIDS. For although they do not get the symptoms of full-blown AIDS, the retrovirus stays alive in their blood. JoJo was destined to be given a new vaccine against HIV, then "challenged" by an injection of the retrovirus.

It was the first time I had visited adult chimpanzees in a lab. The veterinarian, Dr Jim Mahoney, introduced me. "JoJo's very gentle," he said, as he walked away between rows of cages, five on each side of the bleak, harshly lit underground room. I knelt down in front of JoJo, and he reached as much of his hand as he could between the thick bars that formed a barrier between us. The bars were all around him, on every side, above and below. He had already been in this tiny prison for at least 10 years; 10 years of utter boredom interspersed with periods of fear and pain. There was nothing in his cage save an old motor tire for him to sit on. And he had no opportunity to contact others of his kind. I looked into his eyes. There was no hatred there, only a sort of gratitude because I had stopped to talk to him, helped to break the terrible grinding monotony of the day. Gently, he groomed the ridges where my nails pressed against the thin rubber of the gloves I had been given, along with mask and paper cap. I pushed my hand in between the bars and, lip smacking, he groomed the hairs on the back of my wrist, peeling the glove down.

JoJo's mother had been shot in Africa. Could he remember that life? I wondered. Did he sometimes dream of the great trees with the breeze rustling through the canopy, the birds singing, the comfort of his mother's arms? I thought of David Greybeard and the other chimpanzees of Gombe. I looked again at JoJo as he groomed me, and my vision blurred. Not for him the freedom to choose each day how he would spend his time and where and with whom. There was no comfort for him of soft forest floor or leafy nest, high in the treetops. And the sounds of nature were gone too, the tumbling of the streams, the roar of the waterfall through the dim greens and browns of the forest world, the wind rustling and sighing in the branches, the scuttlings of little creatures moving through the leaves, the chimpanzee calls rising, so clear, from the distant hills.

JoJo had lost his world long, long ago. Now he was in a world of our choosing, a world that was hard and cold and bleak, concrete and steel, clanging doors, and the deafening volume of chimpanzee calls confined in underground rooms. Horrible sounds. A world where there were no windows, nothing to look at, nothing to play with. There was no comfort or gently grooming fingers, no friend to embrace and kiss in joyous morning greeting, no chance to impress with a magnificent display of malehood. JoJo had committed no crime, yet he was imprisoned, for life. The shame I felt was because I was human. Very gently, JoJo reached out through the bars and touched my cheek where the tears ran down into my mask. He sniffed his finger, looked briefly into my eyes, went on grooming my wrist. I think Saint Francis stood beside us, and he too was weeping.

Anyone who tries to improve the lives of animals invariably comes in for criticism from those who believe that such efforts are misplaced in a world of suffering humanity. Certainly this was the opinion of a woman I met while on tour in America. It happened to be my birthday and I was enjoying a small surprise party. The sun was shining and the spring flowers brought a smile to one's heart. Suddenly my hostess came up, concerned, to point out a tight-faced woman who had just arrived. "She's been told her daughter is only alive because of experimental work on dogs. She belongs to People for Animal Experimentation." I was familiar with that group and was glad I had been warned. I expected trouble and, indeed, the woman approached me soon afterward and proceeded to tear strips off me. If I had my way, her daughter would have died. People like me made her sick. It was quite a vicious verbal attack and the people around us drew back, embarrassed. When finally I could get a world in I told her my mother had a pig valve in her heart. It was from a commercially slaughtered hog, but the procedure had been worked out with pigs in a laboratory. "I happen to love pigs," I told her. "They are quite as intelligent as dogs -- often more so. I just feel terribly grateful to the pig who saved my mother's life and to the pigs who may have suffered to make the operation possible. So I want to do all I can to improve conditions for pigs -- in the labs and on the farms. Don't you feel grateful to the dogs who saved your daughter? Wouldn't you like to support efforts to find alternatives so that no more dogs -- or pigs -- need be used in the future?"

The woman stared at me -- she was speechless for a moment. Then she said: "No one ever put it like that before." The bitter, angry expression on her face had disappeared. "I shall pass on your message to my group," she said and left.

The use of animals in experiment is a highly controversial issue. From the point of view of those who care about animals this is hardly surprising. In the name of science and with the various goals of improving human health, keeping dying people alive, ensuring human safety, testing researchers' hypotheses, and teaching students, animals are subjected to countless invasive, frightening, and sometimes very painful procedures. To test product safety and efficacy, animals such as rats and mice, guinea pigs, cats, dogs, and monkeys are injected with or forced to swallow, or have dripped into their eyes, a whole variety of substances. Surgical techniques are practiced by medical students on animals, and new surgical procedures are tested on animals. To try out experimental techniques for treating burns, vast areas of animals' bodies are subjected to first-degree burns. To discover more about the effect of smoking, taking drugs, eating too much fat, and so forth on human animals, other kinds of animals are forced to inhale huge quantities of smoke, take drugs, and overeat. To learn about biological systems, scientists stick electrodes into animals' brains, deafen, blind, kill, and dissect them. To learn about mental functions, researchers subject animals to a vast array of tests; mistakes are punished with electric shocks, food and water deprivation, and other cruelties. In short, what is done to animals in the name of science is often, from the animals' point of view, pure torture -- and would be regarded as such if perpetrated by anyone who was not a scientist.

I have thought long and deeply about the ethical implications of animal research. Regardless if how much or how little these experiments benefit human health, should we exploit animals in this way? Human beings are animals. Experiments were made on human beings during the Nazi era in Europe. And in many other countries,  at many other times, human beings, with or without their knowledge, have been used in potentially harmful experiments. The thought of deliberate experimentation on nonconsenting human beings horrifies us. And rightly so.

If a painful experiment is performed  on another kind of animal being, other than a human being, our distress, presumably, will be more or less acute depending on the amount of suffering we believe that the animal endures. So it would be a good thing if we knew how much suffering various species of animals experience. Unfortunately we can never know this -- after all, there is a huge difference even among humans regarding perception of pain: the same procedure can be agonising for one person, and only mildly painful to another. However, there are certain things that we know cause pain to humans and animals alike, such as swallowing poison that causes death due to its agonising attack on the gut. Are we justified in causing agony of this sort in a healthy animal if, at some future time, humans may be spared agony? This is a question that each of us must answer for ourselves. And our answers will vary depending on: 1) the species of animal involved; 2) our knowledge of the nature of that animal; 3) our own experience of painful illness of this sort in ourselves or in loved ones.

Fortunately the growing animal welfare and animal rights movements have stimulated new efforts in the search for alternatives to the use of live animals in pharmaceutical and medical experimentation. It is unfortunate that, once such an alternative has been found, certified effective (by the Food and Drug Administration in the US), there are no laws to prevent the further exploitation of animals for that particular purpose. It is unfortunate also that the hurdles that must be crossed before a new nonanimal procedure is approved are more numerous and harder to negotiate thanks the case if a new animal procedure is proposed. There has been a good deal of research into the history of medicine tracing the contributions made by animal experimentation. this work shows clearly that animals have not been as critical to the advancement of medicine as is typically claimed by proponents of animal experimentation. Moreover, a great deal of animal research has been misleading, and resulted either in the withholding of drugs, sometimes for years, that were subsequently found to be highly beneficial to humans, or to the release and use of drugs that, though harmless to animals, have actually contributed to human suffering and death.

I believe one of the great challenges of the future -- a challenge to young researchers in human and veterinary medicine -- is to find alternatives to the use of live animals of all species in experimentation, with the goal of eliminating them altogether. We need a new mindset: let us stop saying that, while it is unfortunate, some animals will always be needed, and, instead, admit that the practice is unethical and the sooner we stop doing it the better. Let science direct its collectively awesome intellect toward phasing out all animal research. Human history is full of inspiring stories of those who achieved the impossible.

Of course, while science is responsible for a great deal of animal suffering, including much that is unnecessary, it is not scientists alone who are guilty of animal abuse. Billions of animals are subjected to unspeakable pain, misery, and fear during intensive factory farming for food. From birth to death, in their pens or crates, on the sometimes interminable journeys to slaughter and, worst of all, in the abattoirs, they suffer. Wild animals are hunted, trapped, and poisoned. There is horrid exploitation of a huge variety of animal species in the live animal trade, and in training for entertainment, and in the pet industry. And there are countless "beasts of burden" whose treatment is nothing short of barbaric.

Over the past 40 years, animals have been increasingly subjected to intensive farming. This type of husbandry, which inflicts on sentient beings the assembly line method for maximum productivity, became widely adopted as small farms were forced out of business by giant corporations -- agribusiness had arrived. I first became aware of this when I read Peter Singer's book Animal Liberation, in which he described, in graphic detail what this entailed. Because laying hens were crammed, in some cases five birds into a cage only 16 inches by 18 inches, in "battery farms," they sometimes became cannibalistic. So they were "debeaked" -- that is, they were strung upside down, in long lines, and conveyed past a machine that cut off their beaks. This procedure was painful; worse, the stumps would be sensitive for the rest of the hens' lives. Pigs, I read, were kept in small pens, barely able to move. Standing on slats that allowed dirt to be washed away, their feet became sore and deformed; their legs, weak from lack of exercise, often broke as the overweight pigs were forced toward their execution. Farrowing sows were pinned under hoops of steel so that they literally could not move -- and accidentally squash a piglet. And one of the worst nightmares for pigs with their incredibly sensitive noses (remember the famous truffle hunters in France?) was that they could not escape the stench of their excrement, the ammonia of their urine -- unbearable even for us with our poor human sense of smell. Veal calves, I discovered, were kept in crates so small that they could not turn around. And they were kept in the dark and deprived of light and iron so that their meat would be white. So intense was their craving for iron that they drank their urine.

I found that my whole attitude to eating flesh abruptly changed. When I looked at a piece of meat on my plate I saw it as a part of a once living creature, killed for me, and it seemed to symbolise fear, pain, and death -- not exactly appetising. So I stopped eating meat. For me, one of the delightful side effects of becoming a vegetarian was the change in my own health. I felt lighter, more filled with clean energy. I was not wasting my body's time by asking it to sort out the good protein from all the waste products that the onetime living creature had also been trying to get rid of.

There are other issues relating to raising animals for food. Thousands of acres of rain forest are cleared to provide grazing for cows, or to grow crops for animal fodder. Not only are the indigenous peoples of the Amazon losing their forest heritage but also the whole process is extremely wasteful. It has been estimated that one acre  of fertile land can produce between 500 and 600 pounds of vegetable protein from crops such as peas or beans. If the acre is used, instead, to grow a crop to feed animals, which we then kill and eat, we shall only get between 40 and 45 pounds of animal protein from that acre.

At this point, I want to make it quite clear that I do not condemn the eating of meat per se -- only the practice of intensive farming. Let the meat eaters among us -- most of my friends -- try to partake of the flesh of animals who have enjoyed their lives and have been killed in the most painless way possible. And could we not offer up a prayer for the spirit of the once living creature that has died for us? In the olden days people did just that. Indigenous peoples still do. Any little thing that brings us back into communion with the natural world and the spiritual power that permeates all life will help us to move a little farther along the path of human moral and spiritual evolution.

If we accept that humans are not the only animals with personalities, not the only animals capable of rational thought and problem solving, not the only animals to experience joy and sadness and despair, and above all not the only animals to know psychological as well as physical suffering, we become (I hope) less arrogant, a little less sure that we have the inalienable right to make use of other life-forms in any way we please so long as there is a possible benefit for human animals. We are, of course, unique but we are not so different from the rest of the animal kingdom as we used to suppose. This knowledge leads to humility, to a new respect for the other amazing animal beings with whom we share this planet, especially those with complex brains and social behaviour about whom we know the most, such as dogs and cats and pigs. Even if we only suspect that other living beings have feelings that may be similar to our own, or not too dissimilar to our own, we should have doubts about the ethics of treating those beings as mere "things" or "tools" for our own human purposes. Even if all animals used are bred especially for our use -- in the laboratory, or for food, or for entertainment -- does this make them, somehow, less pig? less monkey? less dog? Does this deprive them of feelings and the capacity to suffer? If we raised humans for medical experiments, would they be less human and suffer less and matter less than other humans? Were human slaves less able to feel pain, grief, and despair simply because they were born into slavery?

We need only to list some of those who have spoken out for kindness and compassion toward animals to realise how many of the truly great have been among their ranks. Albert Einstein begged us to widen the "circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty." Albert Schweitzer insisted, "We need a boundless ethic that includes animals too." Mahatma Gandhi believed, "You can tell about the people of a country by the way they treat their animals."

Throughout the ages, a number of eminent men have been outspoken on the subject of meat-eating. Pythagorus wrote: "The earth afford a lavish supply of riches, of innocent food, and offers you banquets that involve no bloodshed or slaughter; only beasts satisfy their hunger with flesh." George Bernard Shaw, the British playwright, said: "We don't want to fight. And yet we gorge ourselves upon the dead." Benjamin Franklin declared that meat-eating was "unprovoked murder." And, most vehement of all, Leonardo da Vinci, surely one of the greatest minds of all time, considered the bodies of meat-eaters to be "burial places; graveyards for the animals they eat."

To me, cruelty is the worst of human sins. Once we accept that a living creature has feelings and suffers pain, then if we knowingly and deliberately inflict suffering on that creature we are equally guilty. Whether it be human or animal, we brutalise ourselves.

It is not always an easy message to get across.

One of my favourite stories concerns a London taxi driver who, early one morning, took me to Heathrow Airport. I was tired, I had two weeks of lectures ahead of me, and I planned to doze in the car. But somehow the driver knew that I worked with chimpanzees and launched into a vindictive tirade against everyone who "wasted" money on animals. Especially his sister. He went on and on about his sister. She worked for a local animal protection group. There was so much human suffering, so many abused children. It made him sick to have a sister who cared about animals. There were far too many TV programmes about animals. He always turned them off.

I was not in the mood for all that. I was just about to lean back in my seat and close my eyes when I realised that this was exactly the kind of irritating, blinkered person that so desperately needed to be made aware. He represented thousands who thought the same way. Ignorant of these issues, unable to discuss, only able to trot out the same old dogmatic statements that he had heard, and repeated, a hundred times. Quite clearly I had been meant to ride in that taxi.

So I sat uncomfortably sideways on the jump seat and talked to him all the way to Heathrow through the little open window behind him. I started off with stories about the chimps. He did listen, but it didn't seem to make any difference. I told him how chimps could learn sign language. I told him how some of them loved to paint. And how they felt emotions, and cared for each other, and even rescued each other. I recounted stories about dogs and other animals who had saved the lives of their owners. I suggested that we had a responsibility toward animals in captivity because we had deprived them of any ability to fend for themselves. And that there were already many people concerned about human problems, so surely it was okay for some to care about animals also.

But nothing seemed to make any difference. Caring about animals, he maintained stubbornly, was a waste of time. "But anyway, enjoy yourself in America," he said as I got out.

It was appropriate to give him a tip regardless of his views, but I didn't have the right amount, and he had no change. So I told him to take a couple of pounds for himself and give the rest to his sister, for her animal work. I never thought he would -- but it appealed to my sense of humour.

When I got back to the UK after my tour one of the letters waiting for me was from the cab driver's sister.

"My brother gave me your donation," she wrote. "That was so very kind of you. But the most amazing thing is, something happened to my brother. What on earth did you do to him? He's so nice to me suddenly, and he's asking me all these questions about the animals. He's really interested in my work. He's changed. What did you do to him?"

My exhausting hour had paid off. Not only had he made his sister happy, but perhaps he had expounded his new understanding to some of his friends and converted one or more of them.

Today, attitudes are slowly changing. And they will continue to change as the general public becomes better informed, as more people with mass appeal spread the message - such as Sir Paul McCartney, who, after his wife's death, made the decision to become more involved with the animal issues that meant so much to her. Many of the major medical schools have dropped "dog lab" from their curriculum. Many veterinary schools in America are offering alternatives to the traditional way of learning by operating on healthy stray dogs and cats -- healthy, that is, until the students begin cutting them up. The old SEMA lab, where I met Barbie. has a new name, reflecting a change in attitude. The isolettes are gone, the chimpanzees have quite large cages, and they remain in pairs for all experiments. JoJo, my sad acquaintance from LEMSIP, was retired to a sanctuary in California when the place closed down, and many other chimps from that lab were similarly placed in sanctuaries around North America.

We still have a long way to go. But we are moving in the right direction. If only we can overcome cruelty, to human and animal, with love and compassion we shall stand at the threshold of a new era in human moral and spiritual evolution -- and realise, at last, our most unique quality: humanity.

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