A chimp is not a monkey, you ape

First Click: April 21st, 2015

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“Cool, Monkeys Are People Now Too,” laments a headline. Unfortunately, the story has nothing to do with monkeys. But hey, it’s black, furry, probably eats lots of bananas, and exists primarily to keep us entertained. Cartoons have already equipped us with all the information we need to make complex ethical decisions about the animal's treatment.

The news in question actually relates to a group of chimpanzees who, for the first time in US history, have been granted a day in court under a writ of habeus corpus — a right granted to humans to challenge unlawful detention.

But chimps are apes, not monkeys; the closest living relatives we have. Conflating the two in a discussion of law and scientific research is to ignore evolution. The animal kingdom is not divided as human and non-human in unyielding binary states of development.

Monkeys like the rhesus macaque play an important role in the research of human diseases like malaria and AIDS, and furthering our understanding of neuroscience. The fact that many support this is not an uncommon position to take by a human species that exists largely above and beyond the reaches of the food chain. Fewer people, however, support medical research on chimpanzees and other great apes.

To be ethical and humane, shouldn’t we at least start by knowing what a monkey is?

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