One year ago, before the Cle Elum Seven arrived at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest, I posted a blog entry with a link to a radio interview with Charles Siebert on This American Life.
Today, Siebert had an op-ed printed in the New York Times entitled Something Wild. Here is an excerpt:
There is something about chimpanzees — their tantalizing closeness to us in both appearance and genetic detail — that has always driven human beings to behavioral extremes, actions that reflect a deep discomfort with our own animality, and invariably turn out bad for both us and them.
Siebert uses specific examples of chimpanzee individuals to illustrate humans’ uncomfortable relationship with our closest evolutionary relatives, and our stubborn desire to make them fit into our concepts of of who they are, which manifest not from observing and appreciating chimpanzees as a distinct species, but from our attempts to make them our human-like playthings as “pets” and “entertainers” or human surrogates in biomedical research.
Siebert explains what I have observed of captive chimpanzees – they live in a world of lost identity. They did not have the opportunity to grow up within a chimpanzee culture, but they cannot fit into our human culture either, no matter how hard we try to force them to.
Sanctuaries like Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest try to make the best out of the inherently unjust situation of captivity. We allow the chimpanzees to be who they are, which is sometimes a strange mix of learned “human” behaviors and a renewed expression of their instinctual chimpanzee selves. Our deepest hope is that we can provide for those in our care while working to ensure that one day sanctuaries like ours will not be necessary because chimpanzees will no longer be used for human purposes.