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Drawing the Line: Science and the Case for Animal Rights

Drawing the Line: Science and the Case for Animal Rights [Paperback]

The first scientific exploration of those animals, from honeybees to gorillas, whose abilities should entitle them to legal rights as persons . Are we ready for parrots and dolphins to be treated as persons before the law? In this unprecedented exploration of animal cognition along the evolutionary spectrum-from infants and children to other intelligent primates, from dolphins, parrots, elephants, and dogs to colonies of honeybees-Steve Wise finds answers to the big question in animal rights today: Where do we draw the line? Readers will be enthralled as they follow Wise's firsthand account of the world's most famous animal experts at work: Cynthia Moss and the touchingly affectionate families of Amboseli; Irene Pepperberg and her amazing and witty African Grey parrot, Alex; and Penny Paterson with the formidable gorilla Koko. In many cases, Wise was able to sustain an extended conversation with these extraordinary creatures. No one with even a shred of curiosity about animal intelligence or justice will want to miss this book.


Ending the slavery: it has happened before

Like the critics of slavery abolitionists who asserted that efforts were better spent helping poor young chimney sweeps than African slaves, there will be those who argue that instead of concerning ourselves with the plight of nonhuman animals, we should concentrate on making the world a better place for starving people in Africa, diseased humans, etc. (There is nothing wrong with advancing worthy human causes, but some folks don't seem to realized they can be pursued simultaneously with nonhuman animal causes.) Steven Wise launches a convincing argument that nonhuman animals are remarkably similar to humans on many quantifiable levels, and that some nonhumans may therefore be justified in sharing basic rights with humans.

Among all the cited cases documenting the complex web of human-like (as well as unique) traits among dolphins, honeybees, orangutans, dogs, gorillas, African grey parrots, elephants (and from his previous book, chimpanzees and bonobos), I found one case most interesting. As an economist, I was particularly bemused to discover that orangutans have displayed an understanding of economic value! The author describes the orangutans Azy and Indah who were given bamboo tools to use in public demonstrations. After a demonstration, a human could only retrieve the bamboo tools from the orangutans in exchange for proper compensation. Offering the orangutans a sunflower seed was sufficient payment for a small piece of bamboo. Obtaining a large piece cost much more: an entire walnut. Shrewd bargainers, those orangutans were, and capable of very abstract thinking!

The book is filled with evidence of nonhuman intelligence, emotion, and language (making it an excellent companion to Joan Dunayer's book Animal Equality: Language and Liberation). The evidence ranges from anecdotal to experimental. The author quotes biologist Bernd Heinrich who says "We can't credibly claim that one species is more intelligent than another unless we quantify intelligent with respect to what, since each animal lives in a different world of its own sensory inputs and decoding mechanisms of those inputs." Having demonstrated that nonhuman animals can score highly on tests designed to measure human intelligence, surely we have only scratched the surface.

The stated goal of this book (and Wise's previous book) is to rattle the legal profession into extending basic rights to beings other than humans. Thanks to Steven Wise, I am confident that will happen, now sooner rather than later. As he says, "human slavery was once as firmly entrenched as nonhuman animal slavery is today." There is hope.

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