Chimp Rights

Chimp Rights

By Mordechai Schmutter

Should chimpanzees be considered human?

Before you say, “Of course not!” bear in mind that technically, chimps share 98.7% of their DNA with humans, and are our closest living relatives, other than our actual relatives, who we’re not 100% sure are fully human.

The reason I bring this up is that there’s an ongoing court battle that I found in an October news article, and then again in a May news article, about a NY judge trying to decide whether chimps should be given human rights.

This isn’t some bored judge.  Judges have lives.  Judges have such busy lives that they don’t even have time to get dressed in the morning.  They just throw on the robe and come into work.  Who’s going to say anything?  They’re a judge.

“Your honor, are you wearing pants?”

“I sentence you to five years.”

No, someone is actually petitioning the judge for these rights.

I guess the biggest question you have when you hear this story is, “Is it the chimps fighting for these rights, or are the humans doing it on their behalf?  Are the chimps showing up to court with a suit and a briefcase?  Are the chimps even aware that this is happening?

No.  Apparently there’s a group called the Nonhuman Rights Project, headed by a lawyer named Steven Wise, who as far as we can tell might be the entire Nonhuman Rights Project.  Either way, this organization wants chimps to be recognized as “cognitively complex autonomous legal persons with the fundamental lead right not to be imprisoned.”

If you didn’t understand that, don’t feel bad.  Neither did the chimps.

Basically, they’re fighting for all chimps living in cages – even nice, comfortable cages.  What Wise wants to get them is habeas corpus, which is the right to know what you’re locked up for.  But traditionally, habeas corpus applies only to humans, for some reason.  Steven is looking to change that, because he says that chimps are at least as smart as humans.  After all, they use tools, interact socially, laugh together, and some have learned enough sign language to communicate at the same level as a child of 3.  In other words, they can say, “Why?” and, “No!” and put inappropriate things in their mouths.

Yet they’re being imprisoned without knowing why.  They don’t even get their one phone call.

The idea is to send them to a chimp reserve in Florida,
which is more like a white collar prison, I guess,
if chimps were into racketeering and corporate fraud

The idea is to send them to a chimp reserve in Florida, which is more like a white collar prison, I guess, if chimps were into racketeering and corporate fraud.  It’s a community for chimps who’ve been part of experimentation and circuses and can’t be released into the wild.  So we send them down to Florida, where they retire.

But the judges said, “No,” so Wise kept appealing, and we get the idea that the judge finally said yes just to get him to stop.  He’s like a 3-year-old.

According to Steven, keeping the chimps is inhumane: “Putting them in solitary confinement is the equivalent of putting me in solitary confinement,” he says.

Here’s an idea: Let’s put Steven in solitary confinement.

Okay, that would be cruel.  Let’s put him in with a chimp.

I don’t know why this is inhumane.  The chimps are being given a job, and they get paid with room and board and meals and sometimes karate lessons.  It’s a job.  We can’t very well send them home to an apartment every night, because they’re not going to come back in the morning.  How are they gonna get back and forth?  Are they taking the subway?  So we lock the door.  It’s like dorming, but without the smell.

The truth is that the judge didn’t say whether they are or aren’t humans yet; he said he’s willing to hear the case.  But I say let’s try this case ourselves, wearing pants, based on recent news stories:

Take the recent story of some people in West Africa who were making a fermented palm wine out of lulav trees.  They tapped a tree and then waited for the sap to drip into a receptacle, and they noticed that sometimes when they got back, a lot of the wine was missing.  So they set up hidden cameras and they found out that the local chimps were sneaking up in middle of the night and drinking until they didn’t know the difference between apes and monkeys.  Because there’s nothing like a good glass of wine after a stressful day of going to court to fight for your rights.

The chimps didn’t have schnapps cups, so they made sponges out of chewed leaves, dipped them in the wine, and sucked on them.  Like at a bris.

This is what we want to set loose?  Drunk chimps?

VERDICT: Like humans.  Or at least yeshiva bochurim.


Meanwhile, according to recent studies by scientists in the Congo, it turns out that chimps would cook if they could.  Would they wear tall hats and aprons?  Because in my head they would.

They can’t go to the supermarket, though.  They also can’t see over the stove.  But I don’t know why I’m poking so many holes in this.  Let them cook if they want to.  What’s the worst that’s going to happen?  They’re going to burn down the rainforest?

Ok, so that’s pretty bad.

So the researchers didn’t actually let them cook.  They didn’t just hand the chimps fire and see what would happen.  Basically what happened was that they had a bowl with a false bottom.  They had the chimps hand them a slice of raw potato, which the “chef” then put into the bowl and shook for ten seconds before taking an identical slice of cooked potato out of the bowl.  As it turns out, the chimps preferred the cooked potato, and were even willing to wait for it, which is not that surprising, because we’ve all tried raw potatoes.

Hey, maybe the chimps don’t prefer cooked foods; they prefer magic.

So the researchers took it further: They gave the chimps the raw potatoes when the chef wasn’t even there.  And they found that the chimps would save it to be cooked later.  Not only that, but they started saving their other foods to be cooked later too, such as carrots.  They put the carrots in the bowl, and it came out cooked potatoes.  Magic.

So the conclusion that the researchers came up with was that chimps like cooked food, they just don’t know about fire.  And this ridiculous bowl charade isn’t helping them learn about it.

Are you sure they would cook?  Because what I’m getting from this is that the chimps have the cognitive ability to have a guy cook for them.

But at the very least, the chimps would be willing to wait for food to cook. We’re just giving them very unrealistic expectations of how long it takes to cook a potato.  Whereas humans would look in the fridge, see ingredients, and go, “We have nothing to eat.”  We’ve all eaten cold leftovers because we were too lazy to wait.

VERDICT: More advanced than humans.


Then there’s the recent study that says that chimps laugh at each other’s jokes even if they aren’t funny.

How do we know the jokes aren’t funny?  Maybe their humor is very highbrow.

Reportedly, the scientists are looking at situations where a group of chimps start laughing, and the new guy laughs too, even though he’s the new guy and most probably has no idea what they’re laughing at.

Of course the new guys laugh.  They don’t want to look ridiculous.  They already look like chimps standing in a circle and drinking wine out of sponges.

VERDICT: Like humans.


Finally, there’s the recent study, from April, that says that the reason a lot of us have back pain, and specifically herniated discs, is that our spines are too similar to chimps’.   So it turns out that chimps aren’t like us; we’re like them.  I definitely made chimp noises when I hurt my back.  I also may have thrown stuff.

Apparently chimps – and many humans – have this part of their backs called a Schmorl’s node, discovered by Shmuel Schmorl (1861 – shortly after he started poking chimps in the back), which is essentially a small hernia that already exists in the discs between the vertebrae, ready to pop out.

On the surface, this doesn’t make sense, because we never really see chimps lying down and complaining about their backs, or refusing to bring things in from the car, or screaming in agony and falling down in one fell motion or whatever.

But it turns out that the reason the chimps don’t get back pain is because they walk on their knuckles.  If we would, like we do when we get back pain, we wouldn’t get slipped discs.

VERDICT: Like humans.


So it turns out that chimps are actually a lot like humans, at a vote of 3 recent news stories to 1.  On the other hand, I have a vested interest here in giving them human rights.  Why not?   I say life would be more interesting if chimps voted, drove cars, held political office, edited newspapers, and so on.  And the world wouldn’t really be much worse off than it is right now.

Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia, a monthly humor columnist for The Jewish Press, and has written three books, all published by Israel Book Shop.  He also does freelance writing for hire.  You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to


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