We should release them.
Few people continue to argue that these animals’ subjective experiences are drastically different from our own. British human rights campaigner Peter Thatchel, wrote on July 11, 2007, that
It is widely recognised that primates are thinking, feeling creatures with many human-like traits, including affection, intelligence and altruism. Evidence suggests that imprisonment and invasive experiments cause them physical and psychological damage in ways not dissimilar to that experienced by humans who are subjected to comparable suffering.So, if we have a smidgeon of pretense that we respect the rights of others because of some rational set of characteristics, we must stop hurting these animals and end their incarceration as soon as possible.
Here’s what we should do.
We can’t return these animals to their homelands. In many cases, they were born in the U.S. and have lived their lives in an institution. The wild caught monkeys have now been exposed to a cacophony of human pathogens that should not be transmitted into wild populations. And, of course, many of these animals would simply be killed, recaptured and resold if they were returned.
We can though, and should, release them in southern Florida and maybe in other areas that have suitably warm winters.
They should be sterilized prior to release. They should be provisioned for the remainder of their lives. This is the nation’s responsibility.
In some cases, large colonies already exist and could be released almost immediately. The large baboon colonies at Southwest and the vervet colony at UCLA could be released in the southwest right now. Groups of squirrel monkeys, marmosets, tamarins, and others exist across the county and could be released in Florida right away. The same is true for group-housed animals at zoos and sanctuaries.
Some macaques are already living in groups, and these animals could be transported and released right away.
In some cases, especially among the thousands of individually housed macaques in the labs, effort should be undertaken to carefully establish groups prior to release. In some cases, dispersed releases of single animals or very small groups might be appropriate.
For humane reasons, severely debilitated animals might require continued captivity. This captivity would, however, need to be as unrestrictive as possible.
The same procedures should be used with chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas as well; it would be prudent to release them on islands to reduce the likelihood of human confrontations.
Undoubtedly, these releases will affect the local ecosystems; this will be a diminishing impact over time as the populations are naturally reduced. This is part of the cost of having brought them here in the first place.
There is plenty of publicly owned property suitable for this purpose. The cost of moving the animals and provisioning them is a diminishing and tiny fraction of the current cost of breeding them, housing them, and experimenting on them.
There really isn’t another ethical choice. Legitimate sanctuaries hold these animals in zoo-like settings simply because it is currently the only option other than killing them.
We should let them go.