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September 15, 2011

Talk Back: Working to Protect Chimpanzees and Exotic Animals

Chimpanzee - iStockphoto

Last week, I saw a moving video of a group of chimpanzees venturing out into the sunlight at an Austrian sanctuary for the first time after many years of confinement and suffering in invasive biomedical research where the Daily Mail reported many of them had been intentionally infected with HIV. The narration is in German, but the footage of the animals stepping outside says it all. It is clear that these animals felt joy and curiosity and surprise to finally be thrust into daylight and fresh air, and now they finally experienced the better and more decent side of humanity.

Although chimps are so similar to us genetically, many experiments conducted on them such as HIV studies have been unproductive in yielding any medical advance for people. Yet the United States continues to warehouse hundreds of these animals in laboratories at an enormous financial cost to taxpayers and a moral cost to our entire society.

I wrote recently about The HSUS’s petition to the federal government to extend full protection to all chimpanzees, captive and wild, under the Endangered Species Act. You can contact the Fish and Wildlife Service here to support this effort. Many of you responded passionately about the need to protect chimpanzees:

We must protect those who cannot protect themselves. Chimps' intelligence and close connection to humans in their ability [to] discern and show compassion makes it even [more] disturbing that they understand the cruelty that we as humans inflict upon them. No animal should live in fear or in pain when we have the power to stop it or never start it. —Kendra Tate

These are highly intelligent animals with obvious ability to feel fear and pain and to suffer. We have a responsibility to care for the animals under our "dominion.” —John Lewis

Over the years, captive chimps have suffered an enormous amount at human hands. They should be considered endangered, as their wild brethren are, for their safety. I wish all captive chimps could go to sanctuaries. They are wonderful, intelligent beings who deserve no less. —Diana Cinnamon

These creatures think, have feelings, know pain, joy, fear. They deserve better. —Brenda

I also wrote last week about efforts by the reptile industry to slow reforms that would prohibit the import and interstate transport of nine species of large, dangerous constrictor snakes. Yesterday, Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee conducted a hearing on what they called the Obama administration’s overreach on regulations stifling business. One of their prime examples was the proposed rule to stop the import and interstate transport of these dangerous large snakes! While they claim the proposal to ban the importation and movement of nine species of large constrictor snakes across state lines would hurt small businesses, they ignored the fact that U.S. taxpayers are footing the bill for the multi-million dollar government efforts to eradicate these species after they become established. I am shocked that any sound-minded lawmaker would think this proposed rule supports their broader argument, for I can’t think of a more sensible rule than this.

Many of these snake owners wrote in to the blog, and wrongly argued that our efforts are part of a larger enterprise by The HSUS to end the use of all animals as pets—as if somehow there’s no difference in having a domesticated Labrador retriever or Siamese cat and a Burmese python or green anaconda. The HSUS celebrates the bond between people and their pets and promotes pet adoption, but we oppose keeping dangerous exotic animals in private homes. The reasons are simple and compelling: animal welfare, public safety, and the protection of native wildlife.

Here are excerpts from a few comments we received, including one from a snake owner:

Wild animals are predictably unpredictable. They aren't pets. —Jackie Reina

…I have one of these "dangerous" animals in my house and educate people on snakes weekly. This animal teaches people that it's OK to be different and that reptiles are OK to own as pets—as long as they are EDUCATED on the proper TOOLS and enclosures. Stop breeding ignorance. I'll keep fighting you and you can take my python out of my cold dead hands… —Rachel Sloan

…What has to happen before it's obvious to people that snakes and other exotics are NOT good pets? Most people are limited in the number of cats and dogs they can own. It is just common sense that before anyone can get an exotic they should have to get a license and take some form of safety classes and inspections… —Brenda DiTrapani

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