Monday, October 31, 2011

The Henry Vilas Zoo

About a month ago the Alliance was contacted by a student from the UW-Madison. She explained that she was a little involved with the student animal rights club, she was in the media arts program, and as a class project she was making a documentary about the local zoo. She asked for someone to walk through the zoo and give her their impressions of how the animals were being kept. I volunteered.

I met her and another student in front of the gift shop. We stopped at just about every exhibit. We didn't go into the bird house.

We started at the primate house. The Henry Vilas Zoo has gibbons, orangutans, colobus monkeys, and chimpanzees.

The primate house is the best animal housing at the zoo. And in some ways, it's not so bad. Each enclosure has a large climbing apparatus. The chimpanzees and gibbons have some access to an outdoor area; but overall it must suck to be imprisoned in such a place. The chimpanzees, orangutans, gibbons, and colobus monkeys are doomed to spend decades in an unchanging fixed environment offering very limited interactions with others of their kind. They will spend decades looking at the same flat dull imitation forest painted on the walls, while an endless stream of sometimes loud gawking obnoxious zombies file by. "Ooh, look at the monkey Johnny!"

The colobus monkeys appeared to have no outdoor access. In any case, a couple of the highest limbs of the concrete trees came to abrupt stumps only a few feet from one of the skylights in the ceiling. Perched on top sat a lone monkey. There was no room for a second.

The room they were in, like the rooms of the orangutans and the chimpanzees, was essentially a concrete cell with sad shadows of the world they belong in painted on the walls, more for the patrons than the animals.

I suspect there is almost always a colobus sitting alone at the tip top of the concrete tree in the middle of that concrete room as near to the skylight as possible.

This is the Vilas Zoo description of these animals:

Scientific Name: Colobus guereza

Habitat: Tropical rain and montane (a moist ecological zone located near timberlines and usually dominated by evergreen trees) forests in Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and southwest Cameroon.

Diet: Young leaves, fruit, leaf buds and blossoms.

Life Span: Up to 20 years in the wild or 24-plus years in captivity.

Reproduction: Males reach sexual maturity at six years; females at four years. Each female gives birth to one young about every 20 months after a gestation period of 4-½ to 5-½ months.

Fact: Unlike most primates, the colobus monkey has no cheek pouches and its thumbs are nearly absent. ("colobus" is derived from a Greek word meaning "mutilated.")
I don't believe it is possible to keep these animals humanely indoors. It might be possible to keep a few of them humanely in an outdoor enclosure large enough to provide room for enough large trees to sustain the monkeys' picking their leaves, but this would make it hard for visitors to see them, and zoos are primarily menageries -- collections of animals meant to entertain and amuse visitors.

I was bothered by the gibbon exhibit. White-handed gibbons, the species at the Vilas Zoo, have home ranges of between 30 and a 130 acres. At Vilas, they have a few hundred square feet. Gibbons have very long arms and fingers which they use to swing swiftly through the forest. Here's a video. The relatively tiny enclosure at the Vilas zoo makes it hard, perhaps impossible, for the two gibbons there to express their natural behaviors.

I couldn't watch the orangutans for more than a few moments. Our presence was far too intrusive. The chimpanzees made my throat tighten. I've known a few chimpanzees.

It is possible to keep some wild animals in captivity humanely, and sometimes, because of circumstances beyond the control of those involved, they may be faced with a lifetime of confinement. But in these relatively rare cases, our responsibility to them requires us to provide a large enough space so that they need not continually confront their captivity. If they cannot escape the sight of walls and fences, the cages we keep them in are too small.

Anyway, we finally left the primate house and continued our tour. As I said, the primate house -- with all its inhumane limitations -- is the Ritz of the Vilas zoo. It's all downhill from there. And so, I went back the following day with a camera; I was forced to by my conscience. I didn't go again into the primate house. Mainly because a photograph would be unable to capture the problems inherent there in a way the average reader might easily understand.

But the problems in much of the rest of the zoo seem pretty straightforward and fairly easy to depict in pictures.

Zoos make two interrelated claims to justify their existence: education and species conservation.

I'll consider both of these reasons in some of the situations below to see if they might conceivably excuse the circumstances the animals are being forced to endure.

The Reptile House

It is becoming harder for commercial animal breeders to defend practices that confine an animal so tightly that they are unable to engage in their normal postures and movements. (This is the problem with the gibbon cage.) There is growing pressure to force poultry producers to keep chickens in a manner that allows them to stretch and flap their wings. This seems like the bare minimum that any captive animal ought to be given. Humans in prison ought at least to be able to stand up and walk a few steps; birds ought to be able to stretch their wings. At a minimum, I think ground-living snakes ought to be able to stretch out to their full length and to crawl more or less straight ahead for some distance -- maybe a distance equal to their body length. Similarly, arboreal snakes ought to be able to express their normal bodily movements.

This is a photo of the anacondas at the Vilas zoo:According to the Vilas Zoo, "The average size of an anaconda is 300 pounds and 20 feet long!" Here's their website picture of an anaconda:

According to National Geographic:
Anacondas live in swamps, marshes, and slow-moving streams, mainly in the tropical rain forests of the Amazon and Orinoco basins. They are cumbersome on land, but stealthy and sleek in the water. Their eyes and nasal openings are on top of their heads, allowing them to lay in wait for prey while remaining nearly completely submerged.
Here's a short video that gives some idea of the anaconda's natural habitat and behavior.

The two snakes at the Vilas Zoo can't stretch out, can't swim, can't even really crawl. There isn't anyplace to go.

So what about the zoo's justification for having these animals? Is the exhibit educational? I don't think it is. Anacondas live in water; in fact, they are primarily an aquatic species. Here, they are in a puddle. They are good swimmers, but they can't swim at the zoo. They grow to great lengths, but at the zoo they are forced to remain more or less balled up. At the zoo they are in a small concrete box with little to suggest their natural habitat other than some plastic lily pads and a tired flat mural on the wall.

And what about the standard conservation argument? First, anacondas aren't threatened or endangered. What could anyone learn by looking at these animals lying in a shallow puddle in a concrete box that would encourage them to care or be more cognizant of the pressures on the planet's tropical rain forests? Very little I think.

These animals are being kept in these inhumane conditions simply because anacondas are one of the largest snakes in the world, and no collection of animals is complete without one.

I could go through the same list of problems for each of the other large snakes being kept at the zoo, but won't. Suffice it to say that they are unable to fully express their natural postures and behaviors and that there is essentially nothing that can be learned from seeing them in these circumstances that would not be more richly and meaningfully informative if learned from a book or video.

The two Aldabran giant tortoises are in an equally sad situation. It is impossible to tell from the sterile box they are being held in, with a floor made of plastic, but these very long-lived animals are highly social grazing animals. They live in the Seychelles Islands and a couple other places in the Indian Ocean. They are not endangered. Here are two set of slides about one of these tortoises and a hippopotamus: (1)(2). The two tortoises at the Vilas Zoo are being kept in inhumane conditions. Holding them in such a mind-numbingly sterile cell is cruel.

So, in this case, the standard arguments used to justify keeping animals in a zoo, education and conservation, fail miserably. There is absolutely nothing of value that can be learned from seeing these Aldabran giant tortoises in this pen; they are a mere novelty. They aren't endangered and moreover, there is absolutely nothing someone in Madison could do right now for the animals in the wild population.

Large Mammals

Can you tell which pair of rhinoceroses are at the Vilas Zoo? Do you think that someone in Madison looking that them would be able to call to mind how they might appear in their natural environment? Do you think that living on a bleak barren desert for years on end is conducive to these animals' well-being?

Here are a few elements from the educational component of this sad exhibit:
Not a single blade of grass is to be seen in the pen.The drawing of the tiger being impaled by the Indian rhinoceros is particularly odd. Tigers do occasionally prey on very young Indian rhinoceroses, but attacks on adults are exceedingly rare. So, the image is misleading. White rhinoceroses are generally docile.

Moving along, we come to the giraffes. Like zoos everywhere, these exotic beautiful animals are used as icons for the Vilas Zoo. You might be able to see the details of the poster on the right showing humans running with giraffes. It is promoting a 10K run and a 5K run/walk.

Sadly, and physically punishing, is the reality endured by the real giraffes.
Last Giraffe At Vilas Zoo Dies
It's Second Giraffe Death At Zoo In Month

November 17, 2006

MADISON, Wis. -- The last giraffe at the Henry Vilas Zoo has died.

It is the second death of a giraffe at the zoo in less than a month.

Dane County and zoo officials on Thursday confirmed that their remaining reticulated giraffe has died. It was euthanized Tuesday, after officials said the animal severely ruptured its hip joint and could no longer stand.

The death of the 7-year-old giraffe -- named Raymond Junior, or "RJ" -- comes less than a month after his 12-year-old father Raymond was euthanized under similar circumstances when he could no longer stand.

RJ's 11-year-old mother Savannah died about three years ago after she apparently fell and broke her neck.

The entire family had a degenerative bone and joint disease, similar to arthritis, and zoo officials said that disease led to a massive rupture in RJ's hip joint and severe trauma to his muscles. [More...]
And read this article too:
Giraffes Return To Madison's Henry Vilas Zoo
Activists Say Giraffes Don't Belong At Zoo

August 14, 2007

MADISON, Wis. -- A giraffe exhibit opened at Madison's Henry Vilas Zoo on Tuesday, but not everyone is happy that the zoo again has giraffes after two died there last year.

After standing vacant for nearly a year, the exhibit now features the first two of three new male reticulated giraffes.

Already 6-year-old Zawadi and 5-year-old Sweta are huge hits at the zoo.

"Yeah, they look really nice," said Andrew Edmonds of Beloit. [More...]
It's a sad joke on these animals that humans will be running 5 kilometers to raise money for the zoo, and at the most, the captive giraffes can walk only a few paces in their outdoor yard, and when winter comes around, will be confined to a relatively tiny space. What can people possibly learn about giraffes by seeing them in these circumstances? They are beautiful and tall. That seems a very poor excuse for keeping these animals is such tight confines. The educational or conservation value of having these animals in the Vilas Zoo is vanishingly small.

And that brings us to the American Prarie.Thankfully, the two bison behind this sign can't see it and be reminded of where they ought to be.

American bison are herd animals that historically walked across the continent as they migrated north and south. We can only imagine, but it seems likely that untold generations of living in unimaginably giant herds and walking such long distances led to a genetic predisposition -- probably a longing -- for walking long distances with lots of other bison. For the two sad creatures held in this barren small desert, the urge to walk and graze and to find other bison may well be an incurable ache --incurable because they are held here for our momentary amusement.

There is absolutely no conservation value in having these two animals here, and the educational value is suspect. In fact, like essentially every exhibit at the zoo, the impression taken away by a patron is invariably misleading and, worse, sends a subtle message that keeping animals in these circumstances is ethical and laudable. And this is the opposite of what is true.

Before moving on to the bears, I want to point out something you can't see in the image of the bison. To the right of their pen is a concrete elongated pit that visitors can peer into to. It holds a small colony of prairie dogs. There's no grass or other vegetation. It's just another desert.

I wonder what happens to the offspring of these prisoners?

Now consider the bears.

In spite of what is probably learned by children visiting the Henry Vilas Zoo, polar bears don't live in the mountains. If you watch these bears for very long, you can't help but notice that they pace back and forth, endlessly. And they will until they die.

One reason for this is because they are trapped, and must know it. Another reason is that polar bears normally travel large distances. Their home ranges are very large. In one case, a polar bear traveled over 3,000 miles while being tracked by satellite.

The polar bears held in zoos, like the bison, are stopped from engaging in their natural behavior.

The Henry Vilas Zoo, instead of working to improve the lot of the animals they now have, has embarked on a plan to build a new arctic habitat where they hope they will be able to breed polar bears. The down side of such a plan, aside from the lost opportunities to help the animals already there, is that more animals will be brought into the world merely to satisfy our own urges.

Here's an image of the grizzle bear. Apparently, we are supposed to learn that they too live above the tree line high in the mountains. It is a sad comment on what people are willing to allow to be done to animals.

Before I end this far too long lament, I have to mention two other sad situations among the seemingly endless cacophony.

There is a lone ostrich in a pen that is too small for her. I know it's too small because this lonely bird spends a goodly bit of its time biting the chain link fence. The fence is painted brown, but in the top corners, where it meets the fence separating pens, it is very shiny, and that polished shine is easy to understand when one watches this bird any length of time.

In captive-animal-parlance, or human abnormal psychology, this is called a stereotypy. Stereotypies are repetitive, purposeless actions seen frequently in captive situations where animals have insufficient room or mental stimulation.

Other cases could be seen at the zoo as well. One small tortoise was prevented from approaching the glass front of his cell. The glass was badly scratched where he had clearly spent long hours (years?) trying to push his way through, to escape his small barren cell. In a number of the enclosures, like the tiger's, a well-worn path marked his endless route along the perimeter of his small enclosure. The red panda, a recently much-ballyhooed addition to the menagerie was already working out his short pacing circuit.

And this:This peafowl is in a pen. But peafowl don't need to be penned to keep them around. Essentially every zoo I've ever visited, and a number of farms and sanctuaries, allow these birds to wander around. There is no reason to keep peafowl in a pen.

I could go on and talk about the goats, the lions, the camels, the alligators, the meerkats, or the other animals whose lives are being unnecessarily degraded to give us a moment's entertainment, but I'm too sick of it all to continue.

The Vials Zoo is celebrating it's 100 year anniversary and is holding fundraisers almost everyday it seems. Billboards with misleading images of animals -- touting them as "ambassadors" of the wild, are all over town. Local businesses have to tripped over each other trying to show they support the zoo and apparently, keeping animals in cruel and inhumane circumstances.

It is all very, very sad.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Rescuing Endangered Animals

I'm against it.

I used to be all for it, but the results of successful species rescue programs can and I suspect invariably do, result in great suffering.

We almost eliminated the Canada goose. Geese can't fly when they are molting, and as a result, we were able to easily slaughter millions upon millions of them in fairly short order, and we did.

Then, some of us became alarmed that Canada geese could be completely eliminated. Laws were passed, regulations were written, and the slaughter was stopped, just in time apparently. The population started to rebound and is showing no signs of leveling off.

As a result, people in the towns and cities along the migratory routes are increasingly unhappy that their relatively barren lakes are starting to be used again by increasing numbers of geese. There is no reason not to assume that the goose population will continue rising to fill the niche that was left vacant for so many decades following their near extirpation. At one time, the waterways along the traditional migration routes must have been literally covered with geese at certain times of the year.

As a consequence of people having become used to and expecting their lakes to be more or less free of wildlife, the increasing number of geese has led to cities and towns conducting annual round-ups and slaughters with the help of the United States Department of Agriculture. Additionally, hunters are being allowed to shoot more geese.

The effort to save the Canada goose from extinction was a success, but the result is that many thousands are frightened, manhandled, wounded, and killed every year, and there is no reason to believe that the number of geese suffering from our attacks won't continue to increase over time.

The gray wolf is another species rescued from extinction only to become the target of hunters' perverse and drooling excitement about trapping and shooting them. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and similar agencies in other states are hard at work trying to have the wolf removed from the US Environmental Protection Agency's protected species list. Wolf-hunting season is just around the corner.

I suspect that hunting seasons for whooping cranes are a near certainty if America is able to remain politically intact long enough.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

"Forum" Keeps Details Hidden

In the summer of 2010, a Dane County Supervisor introduced a resolution that sought the creation of a Citizens Advisory Panel that would try to answer these questions:

1. Is the treatment of monkeys in laboratories in Dane County humane?

2. What is needed to enable the retirement of monkeys from UW–Madison’s laboratories after they are used in experiments?

3. Is experimenting on monkeys ethical?

The panel would then write a report documenting and explaining the Panel’s conclusions within six months of the Panel’s first meeting.

[See the initial draft here.]

Mention of Covance, the world’s largest importer and consumer of monkeys, with a lab in Madison using 7,000 monkeys a year, was almost immediately struck from the resolution.

Over the following weeks, two committees took up the resolution. It passed through the first and died in the second. At a subsequent meeting of the full Board, supervisors opposed to the resolution mentioned a statement made by the Vice Chancellor for Research at the second committee meeting. He said:
I’m Martin Cadwallader, and I’m the vice chancellor for research and the dean of the graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The university is not in favor of Resolution 35 as currently written. However, the university proposes to increase opportunities for citizens of Dane County and beyond to learn about our animal research program, raise issues, and engage in dialog.

To this end, we propose a series of forums that would involve research scientists, ethicists, veterinarians, and others engaged in, or interested in, animal research both on and off campus. The purpose would be to provide periodic opportunities to exchange ideas, become aware of the changing federal landscape in research, and provide an open forum on a broad range of animal research topics.

The issues might include: Who funds research of this kind? Are experiments involving animals necessary? Are there alternatives to using animals for research? Who is looking out for the animals? What happens when animals are no longer needed for research projects? What’s the value of research with animals?

In addition, we are committed to offering tours of our primate center, and we encourage you to take a careful look at our website on animal research which provides a great deal of information about the research underway at UW-Madison. It also provides information about our animal care and use program.

Our aim is to make our animal research program more transparent to interested citizens, and to provide valuable information on the concerns and interests of our community.
Now, over a year later, after the promise of tours turned out to be meaningless rhetoric, and after the fourth of the forums promised by Cadwallader, it seems fair to consider whether or not they have made their animal research program more transparent to interested citizens.

The answer seems straightforwardly to be, no.

The most recent event was held on October 11, 2011. It was a lecture by Paul Kaufman, Professor & Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. Dr. Kaufman uses monkeys in his glaucoma and presbyopia publicly-funded research. He may use and kill more monkeys than anyone else on campus. His methods are highly invasive.You can watch his presentation here.

After his lecture, a three-person panel of UW faculty members made fairly brief statements.

One of the panel members, Susan Lederer, Chair of the Department of Medical History and Bioethics, said that one of her areas of interest is the way animals are presented in science. (I know of only one paper by her on the topic, “Political animals: The shaping of biomedical research literature in twentieth-century America.” Isis, 1992. It’s well worth reading.) [She begins speaking at about 57:15.] She called the audience’s attention to the fact that Kaufman’s slides had included only one image of a monkey [it was the one used in the poster advertising the event] and included no details of what is actually done to the animals. She also pointed to Kaufman's use of the image of children in his presentation -- a persuasive device Kaufman left unremarked upon.

After the panelists' remarks, Rob Streiffer -- the moderator and a member of the Forum Committee -- asks Kaufman to respond to Lederer's observations that the monkeys he uses remained hidden. [Begins at about 1:06:13.]

I'd like Dr. Kaufman, if he could, to elaborate on one of the questions that Sue Lederer had, about what exactly is the experience, to the best that we can understand it, of one of the animals in some of the work you were drawing from here. Some of the slides talked about seven hours of treatment, one talked about five days of treatment. How long do you use them? What happens during the time you use them? And where do they go when your done?
Kaufman responds to Lederer’s observation with the comment that he and Streiffer had decided that details and depictions of what he does to the monkeys weren’t appropriate for this lecture in front of a public audience. Lederer then apologized for her misunderstanding.

At this point, Adjunct Associate Professor Patricia McConnell, another member of the Forum Committee, who was sitting next to me, leaned over and said that Kaufman’s explanation was contrary to what the committee had expected from him. Rob Streiffer, with microphone in hand, remained mute on the point.

Kaufman's answer to Streiffer's specific questions comes at about 1:06:35, he wiggles this way and that, but finally says that there are strict rules and regulations on campus. That's the extent of his description of what is experienced by one of the monkeys he uses.

A few days later, I talked with another member of the Forum Committee, Dawn Kubly, who told me that it was fully expected that Kaufman would explain what he does to the monkeys. She also said that this had been very clear in the committee’s discussions and that Streiffer had said so explicitly.

Apparently, Strieffer had told the committee ahead of time that he spoke with Kaufman about the forum committee's desire to have him directly address the impact his research has on the animals he uses and the kinds of procedures they undergo. The hidden nature of the actual experiments is, of course, why the forums came about in the first place.

Kubly was angry, and afterward wrote to the committee about Kaufman’s failure to explain exactly what he does to monkeys in the course of his experiments. Only one committee replied in any substantive way, and they agreed with her.

Matter-of-factly, in the four “forums” that have so far taken place, no one attending can have learned very much at all about what is being dome to the monkeys being used at the University of Wisconsin. Throughout the forums, the only substantive description was of, arguably, the very least ethically problematic use of monkeys at the primate center. [See Charles Snowdon's presentation here.] The “forums” have widely missed the mark set by Cadwallader – “to make our animal research program more transparent to interested citizens, and to provide valuable information on the concerns and interests of our community.”

This comes as no surprise. The university routinely lies to the public about its use of animals(1); it routinely works to keep the public in the dark(2); it actively builds barriers to public understanding and access to information about its use of animals(3); it vigorously defends the most heinous and ethically questionable experimental using animals(4); it circumvents the law(5); it works to exempt itself from the law(6); and it works around-the-clock to attract more federal and private dollars for more experiments on more animals. It comes as no surprise to anyone moderately informed about the university’s dark history in this area that their claims about the “forums” are just more of the same.

One of the sillier bits of conversation that occurred at the Kaufman “forum” was the vivisectors’ claim that they would like to house animals under more humane conditions, but they just don’t have money to do so. They said that people who care about the monkeys ought to be asking the NIH or Congress to give them more money, so that they can enlarge their facilities and give the monkeys more space. The only reason the monkeys are kept in such tight [they didn’t say mind-numbing] quarters, they lamented, was the lack of funding.

Apparently, they blame someone other than themselves for the number of monkeys at the primate center. This is like the woman living in a school bus with umpteen dogs, cats, four goats, a donkey, and seven parrots arguing that it isn’t her fault that she can’t give the animals more room.

(1) Many examples could be given, but the most egregious might be the constellation of lies surrounding the monkeys housed at the Vilas Park Zoo. Multiple written promises made by the university not to harm the monkeys were routinely and secretly broken; a decade later, the primate center director was still lying about their lies to the public.

(2) The current series of “forums” is a good example. In the four opportunities to explain what is done to the animals, the university chose not to reveal any meaningful details. A stronger example is the extreme coordinated effort to derail Res 35.

(3) The most straightforward case among many examples is probably their shredding of nearly fifteen years of videoed experiments on monkeys to keep them out of the public eye.

(4) Only two countries still allow experiments on chimpanzees: the United States and Gabon. The university has convinced US representative Tammy Baldwin not to become a cosponsor of the Great Ape Protection Act because, she says, they worry that if experiments on chimpanzees are banned, where will it all end? They might see a reduction in their obscene access to federal tax dollars.

(5) Again, many examples could be cited. An ongoing example is their pattern of delaying their legally-required responses to open records requests, sometimes by many months. They claim that they don’t have the staff necessary to fulfill the requests within the time frame stipulated by the state attorney general’s office. But they could hire one or two people to do this if they cared about sharing information with the public and complying with the spirit of the law.

(6) In 2010 through 2011, after being caught in years-long series of experiments that were clear matter-of-fact violations of Wisconsin’s anti-cruelty laws – killing animals by means of decompression, and staging fights between animals – the university simply told its lackeys in the Wisconsin legislature to exempt anything it might care to do to animals from the state’s anti-cruelty laws, and they did.

*Forum: “a public meeting or lecture involving audience discussion.” It’s not clear to me that giving people an opportunity to ask a question or two really fits the notion of audience discussion. So far, the “forums” have been lectures that have entertained very limited questions from the audience; “discussion” implies the “consideration of a question in open and usually informal debate.”

See too:

Sunday, February 27, 2011: Dr. Lawrence Hansen's Visit Frightens UW Vivisectors into Hiding

Sunday, October 3, 2010: Res 35: Supervisors' Public Comments

Sunday, September 19, 2010: Christopher Coe on Res 35

Friday, September 17, 2010: Who killed Res 35?

Friday, September 17, 2010: Res 35 probably dead

Wednesday, September 15, 2010: Opposition to Res 35

Monday, August 23, 2010: Liar, liar ...

Thursday, July 22, 2010: Vested Interests, Double-Talk, Ethical Blindness

Monkeys in Dane County: Is the use of monkeys ethical?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Dario Ringach and Animals

Dario Ringach doesn't like me.

(Here are a couple links to pages by or about him. 1, 2, 3.)

He says I support violence against vivsectors, and I guess I sort of do in a manner of speaking. I genuinely believe that what we are doing to animals dwarfs the evil humans have heaped on other humans. The ratio of harm we've done to animals compared to the harm we've done other humans looks something like this:

Too great to quantify/a lot.

A mathematical rationalizing of this ratio would probably yield a gigantic positive number if nothing other than the affected population of each of each group was substituted for the characterizations -- assuming there was a way to reasonably estimate those values.

If the subjective suffering of the individuals represented by those numbers could be reasonably estimated, the resulting value would dwarf even that gigantic number.

Given this impression, I'm not terribly saddened when a proponent of hurting animals dies. I say, good riddance. That's cold, but it's also the general consensus of Americans when it comes to killing suspected terrorists or certain suspected criminals. In this regard, my opinion of what happens to despicable people appears to be clearly in the mainstream. I feel some guilt that I'm not more progressive on this matter and more in line with the majority of animal rights activists who seem in toto to embrace the notion of ahimsa even when it comes to opinions about what is or isn't the appropriate response to supporters, advocates, or participants in mass torture and murder.

[Murder is a term reserved for killing humans, but this reservation is merely an artifact of this point in time. I use it here both narrowly and more broadly. I hope it will be used generally sometime in the future to include the willful killing of animals other than only humans.]

I've expressed my opinion on this matter more than once on the Internet. Ringach has collected a few of my occasional despondent and dark comments and uses them in what is formally referred to as the Ad Hominem fallacy to deflect or discredit my on-line comments. A recent example of such an attack was seen on Scientific American's webpage discussion about the magazine's editorial position that experiments on chimpanzees should be greatly curtailed. See Ban Chimp Testing: Why it is time to end invasive biomedical research on chimpanzees. The Editors. September 28, 2011.

If you read through the comments, you'll see Ringach accusing me of a series of nasty comments -- and I've certainly made any number of them. But he also accuses me of not having read an essay he wrote that he says explains his position on our use of animals and moreover, why he thinks chimpanzees but not monkeys should be reserved for studies of major diseases.

Those who actually know me and happened to read his accusation must have had a real belly laugh. Accusing me of not reading (let alone thinking about) a vivisector's published explanation and justification for hurting and killing animals is like saying Rick Bogle eats beef. On this point, Ringach is as wrong as wrong could be.

If you've read to this point, congratulations you masochist. The rest of this rambling rant is a rejoinder to Dario Ringach's essay "The Use of Nonhuman Animals in Biomedical Research" published in the American Journal of the Medical Sciences. 2011, and particularly his claim that "a graded moral status of living beings" ought to be employed to determine who can be used in harmful scientific experiments.

"I believe moral status to be graded according to the cognitive capabilities of each living being."

This is a dangerous and frightening idea.

Consider this: This is the normal distribution of intelligence quotient scores on the well-known Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS).

Where along this distribution would Ringach draw his line? How smart would one have to be to escape being selected for the vivisector's knife?

Ringach says: "Ethical boundaries may shift as we learn more about animal minds, but given our current knowledge, there is good reason to grant humans the highest moral status followed by great apes, dolphins, monkeys, higher mammals, rodents, insects, and so on."

This might sound reasonable at first blush, but it turns out to be fairly meaningless and hollow. First, what is it about all great apes that sets them cognitively above all other animals other than humans? Given the dire results of the determination, it ought to be something that is easy to discern.

Ringach puts "dolphins" between great apes and "monkeys." So, again, given the dire consequences of one's position on Ringach's graded scale, the cognitive abilities that serve as the dividing point ought to be spelled out pretty clearly and the reason that they are the deciding factors ought to be explained and be understandable.

I have to wonder too about his use of the words "dolphins, monkeys, [and] higher mammals." His list makes me suspect that he isn't much of a zoologist, let alone a knowledgeable judge of comparative intelligence.

There are at least 33 recognized species of marine dolphins, 4 river dolphins and 6 porpoises. It is unlikely that these species have uniform cognitive capabilities. Moreover, it is unlikely that individuals of the same species, say all the members of the species Stenella attenuata, have the same cognitive capabilities. In all likelihood, if we could measure their IQs the results would result in a graph like the one above.

The problem for "monkeys" is even greater. There are about 200 different species, all of which have genetically derived social, behavioral, physiological, and cognitively unique characteristics; how should we rank order them to determine the degree of suffering they can be subjected to as tools for us?

And what should we make of Ringach's term "higher mammals"? The notion of higher and lower life forms is an artifact of the pre-Darwinian idea called the Great Chain of Being or the scala naturae. It is a completely debunked Christian theology-driven notion that few biologists still endorse.

A big problem with Ringach's scale of being is that species he apparently puts near the top, like monkeys (even above "higher mammals"), do not appear to be off limits to any insult as a result of their relatively high position.

For instance, Ringach says, in the interview with him here, that he was inspired by his UCLA colleague David Jentsch to start speaking out in defense of vivisectors. It seems fair to surmise then, that Ringach finds Jentsch's use of monkeys fitting given their cognitive abilities and resulting moral grade.

Here's an example of Jensch's use of monkeys:

In a paper from 2008, he explains:
Young adult male or female St Kitts green (vervet) monkeys (Chlorocebus aethiops sabaeus) at the St Kitts Biomedical Research Foundation (St Kitts, West Indies) were used. As the subjects were feral monkeys, their exact age was not known. These studies were approved by the relevant institutional animal care and use committee. Monkeys, housed individually in squeeze-cages, were injected with PCP twice daily for 14 days, as described before (Jentsch et al, 1997).… John D Elsworth, J David Jentsch, Bret A Morrow, D Eugene Redmond Jr and Robert H Roth. Clozapine Normalizes Prefrontal Cortex Dopamine Transmission in Monkeys Subchronically Exposed to Phencyclidine Neuropsychopharmacology. 2008.
Let’s try to put Jentsch’s PCP injections into context and imagine the situation from the monkeys’ perspective.

First, PCP is almost never injected. It is almost always smoked – sprinkled on tobacco or marijuana, and only very occasionally snorted like cocaine. But it is almost never injected.

Second, nearly everyone who uses PCP knows they’re using PCP.

Third, the commonly reported recreational dose of PCP is 0.01-0.02 mg/kg.

Jentsch injected 15 to 30 times (0.3 mg/kg) the normal recreational dose of PCP into animals, ripped from their families, trapped in cages and being manhandled, who then start having unending nightmarish hallucinations for reasons they can’t imagine. And this went on for two solid weeks, prior to him killing them.

Its hard for me to see how being near the top of Ringach's graded scale of moral status means much of anything.

I think it's clear that his graded scale of moral status is either a rhetorical device or a delusion. There isn't a scale when everyone below the top position can be used as those at the top wish.

A couple other quick things.

The first part of Ringach's article is an attempt to refute the idea that the use of other animal species isn't a very productive research modality when it comes to progress in human health-care. He challenges what he says are "common criticisms" of using animals.

The funny thing about his article is that the "common criticisms" he takes issue with are essentially all from a single critic. It's hard to tell, since he cites only Ray Greek's work in this area, but Ringach doesn't seem to be very well read.

Ringach makes an odd claim that I haven't been able to understand. He says that if there were an obvious advantage to human-based research that we would know it by now, and that he is unaware of any data that support this idea. I don't know what to make of this. He ought to be able to stack up the resulting benefits of human-based research and the resulting benefits of animal-based research and come to some sort of reasonable conclusion as to which one is most productive. How can he be completely in the dark about the data that could be looked at? Maybe I'm missing his point.

I don't know much about the American Journal of the Medical Sciences, where his article was published, but they should have done a better job editing his paper. There are a number of factual, grammatical, and typographical errors as well as some contradictory and illogical passages. Perhaps he will revise and tighten it up at some point in the future. I look forward to reading it again if he does so.

[I don't know whether Ringach eats animals. If he does, then all his justifications for using animals in science are just hollow nonsense. If the flavor of their cooked flesh is sufficient reason to use them, then we hardly need highfalutin claims about the value of the science. The tax money given to the vivisectors would be more than adequate justification to an animal eater.]