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February 26, 2009

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Regarding your postscript, Hilzoy: I have no idea why primates should be a partisan issue. But I couldn't figure out why last year's famous Roger Clemens hearing (before Waxman's committee, IIRC) was so comically partisan, either.

Maybe it's because monkeys = eevilution to some people:)

--TP

And what do you do with your pet primate once you've decided you don't want to care for him or her any more? If you're lucky, you can find a sanctuary that takes them in, but there are very few of these, and they are generally full. You certainly can't reintroduce them into the wild after bringing them up as a sort of peculiar and hairy human child and expect good results. Most often, people either keep them in cages for the duration, abandon them, or euthanize them. All told, it's a sad, sad story.

This is an interesting post.
I must say that I have NO pets.
Because I don't believe in pets.
Particularly after watching my benevolent brother with the maltreated bitch that he brought back from the SPA, and that he has now twisted around his little finger in displays of slavish "gratitude" that I find distasteful. I would rather he let his dogs take off in pursuit of the pullulating rabbits that are overrunning his area. Tear a few of them apart, just to realize that dogs HUNT and NEED TO WORK as we do.
But since WE are overrunning this planet, and destroying these primate's habitats, it seems to me that sooner or later, we SHOULD figure out how to live with primates in a way that will necessarily take into account that the wild just may not exist for very much longer.
A sobering thought, huh ?
I highly recommend Temple Grandin's book "Animals in Translation" just to see what a human being can understand about communicating with animals when IT (not he or she, these days, in my Rousseauean temper tantrums I often don't feel like according myself the importance, should I say, ARROGANCE that our species employs to denigrate the rest of creation) decides that IT wants to.
We COULD be really sensitive AND intelligent animals if we put our minds to it. And dispensed with our basically imperialist and COLONIALIST attitudes towards the other animals of this planet...

hilzoy:

As to why it's a partisan issue, why "too much government," of course. Republicans want to let the market decide whether primates should be pets. (Fortunately, most of the ones who wanted to treat certain humans in the same fashion are gone now.)

See, it's all about the government staying out of your business, unless by "business" you mean "uterus," in which case all bets are off...

(Fortunately, most of the ones who wanted to treat certain humans in the same fashion are gone now.)

I thought those were all Democrats.

I think they opposed it because captive primates are an important part of the Republican media (and blogging) workforce.

Yeah. A regular zoo will be unable to introduce a pet monkey or ape into their colony, at least without a long period of quarantine, because pet apes/monkeys do not socialise well with their own species. They often won't breed successfully, since they've never watched adults of their own species have sex or care for their young, so they'll never make a contribution to the zoo's gene pool.

Buying endangered species as pets is a particularly nasty form of vandalism: it's not just dangerous and pointless and expensive, it's a dangerous, pointless, expensive amusement that will remove an individual member of the species from a dangerously-diminished number of individuals, and acquiring the cute little baby almost certainly meant that some or all of the adults in the baby's family were killed.

I don't think I'm an animal rights fanatic: but this kind of thing fills me with a kind of exhausted rage. Like someone smashing a thousand-year-old vase just because it'll be fun to see if you can score a direct hit right through that stainless glass window.

Gareth:
I thought those were all Democrats.

They were until the Democratic party embraced the civil rights movement, at which point they defected to the GOP, which welcomed them with open arms (cf., Helms, Jesse; Thurmond, Strom).

A good friend of mine is a native Georgia redneck, who has fond memories of all the primates his family acquired from neighborhood pet shops during the 1960s. Every one of them ended up getting shot after attacking someone. I have often thought of these poor creatures in their cages, being taunted and misunderstood by ignorant barefoot homo sapiens and shuddered at a system that would allow such a thing. More disturbing, however, is the fact that people are still doing it. I was shocked to hear this took place in Connecticut, of all places. Bring on the restrictions, once and for all, by all means!!

Psst, "Steve", the second commenter, is a spammer (hover over his name).

What about primates that are trained to help people with severe disabilities? Would this bill make that no longer a viable option for those people?

http://www.monkeyhelpers.org/

re: hilzoy's postscript:

"And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth." - Genesis 1:26

That plus shmibertarian anti-gummint sentiment probably accounts for most of those GOP votes.

Yeesh! The domesticated animals that we currently have are difficult enough to take proper care. As any dog or cat owner might tell, occasionally dogs and cats either vomit or poop on the floor. They can dig through the trash, empty your roll of toilet paper, or dig holes in your backyard. And that's with thousands of years of breeding to choose the most human-compatible behavior.

Just like a raccoon, a chimp is something I can think of as cute while acknowledging that keeping such an adult animal would be a horror. I wish more people realized this.

As for the partisan divide, the Republicans are taking "principled" stands against Obama and the Democratic Party: anything that a dem might like must be bad.

Shinobi: the bill makes an exception for them.

Hmm - TypePad seems to have eaten my comment, so I'll try again.

I think the GOP opposition to this bill can be explained by just a couple of factors ("religious" reasonings notwithstanding):

A) A reflexive disinclination to vote for anything introduced by the Obama Administration or Democrats - just because...

B) An equally reflexive opposition to anything that might be construed as "government telling you what you can/can't do". Which is an automatic "no" for the GOP, since primate-ownership has nothing to do with sex or religion.

Let me try:

Apes will take over the world some day.

They were bad to Charlton Heston.

We Republicans love Charlton Heston.

We Republicans will save Charlton Heston by enslaving the apes first.

QED.

It'd be better to nuke them all from orbit, just to be sure.

I didn't realize that this was a partisan issue.

See this is just another example of how, in the words of Dave Schultheis, "I'm not convinced that part of the role of government should be to protect individuals from the negative consequences of their actions."

See this is just another example of how, in the words of Dave Schultheis, "I'm not convinced that part of the role of government should be to protect individuals from the negative consequences of their actions."

Isn't this another case of partisan near-sightedness, then, given that the most prominent instance, the one suffering the negative consequences wasn't the person who initiated things?

"Shinobi: the bill makes an exception for them."

If primates can be trained such that they are safe enough for disabled people helpers, doesn't that negate the part of the article that says this can't happen (intractable)?

It just seems that disabled people would be at even more risk of monkeys-run-amuk.

And the risk of disease doesn't change because they are monkey helpers.

First off, "helper monkeys" are just that: monkeys, not apes. And small monkeys at that, not (say) Colobus or rhesus.

Smaller, more trainable, and while not as easy to control as, say, a dog or cat, still more controllable than an ape.

Psst, "Steve", the second commenter, is a spammer (hover over his name).

Yes. Seems to be a bot that quotes a chunk of the post to fool people into thinking it's making a real comment.

See this is just another example of how, in the words of Dave Schultheis, "I'm not convinced that part of the role of government should be to protect individuals from the negative consequences of their actions."

Technically, wouldn't the government be preventing people from taking the actions rather than protecting them from the consequences?

Schultheis' framing/phrasing works too hard. As JD Trout recently wrote, framings like this carry a lot of things along with them, including a whole perspective on free will that 2500 years of philosophy has done almost nothing to support.

Why carry so much baggage? Why not just say that the government is promoting the general welfare?

Hilzoy, you've never had a dog that opened cupboards?

Some Border collies are as clever as the average monkey, but they don't live as long; and, to your point, were bred to follow the human pack leader.

Eyes rolled, knowing that you can't smell that you're going the wrong way, a Border collie will indulge you because you're the human.

It is an insult to primates and to what makes us human to assume they will act the same way if treated the same way.


phoenixRising: my dogs didn't. But then, they weren't Border Collies.

Hints from hilzoy: do not acquire two abused, unsocialized dogs who turn out to be (best anyone could tell) part Shiba Inu, part coyote. Shibas take a lot of training to be good pets. Coyotes are wild animals. The combination is not, not good. Especially when you love them to pieces.

phoenix rising, I was wondering why hilzoy'd never seen a cat turn a doorknob. The last one I knew who did that would then, if the door was stiff or heavy, stand back a little way on his hind legs and fall against it, till it opened. Lever, fulcrum...

See this is just another example of how, in the words of Dave Schultheis, "I'm not convinced that part of the role of government should be to protect individuals from the negative consequences of their actions."

But should it be part of the role of government to protect animals from the negative consequences of people's actions? Or is OK to do anything you like to an animal as long as it belongs to you (because it would obviously be wicked to harm someone else's property)?

The last one I knew who did that would then, if the door was stiff or heavy, stand back a little way on his hind legs and fall against it, till it opened. Lever, fulcrum...

I have a cat, Fox, who after turning the knob, gets down on his back, puts his paws under the door, and pulls it open. This same cat was observed years ago by a neighbor defeating an ASPCA humane trap by stepping around the trigger and still getting the food.

If I hadn't had him neutered as a kitten, I probably could be breeding a feline super-race by now.

I don't know how I feel about the bill. Regarding my (conflicted) feelings and why some Republicans opposed the bill, the Hartford Courant provides the following explanation:

Eight days after a Connecticut woman was mauled by a friend's pet chimpanzee, the House of Representatives approved a bill Tuesday designed to stop the interstate trade of monkeys and apes as pets.

The Captive Primate Safety Act does not outlaw primate ownership, but would prevent them from being purchased and transported over state lines for use as pets. The bill's sponsors believe that would be an important step in eliminating primates as pets.
....
Though the bill's seized on the Connecticut incident as an example of why the interstate pet trade must be better monitored. It passed 323-95, with opposition from some Republicans who said it would not avert attacks on humans because it does not address the larger issue of primate ownership.

"The only person whose going to get bitten in this is the American taxpayer," said Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.), who questioned the bill's $5 million price tag for enforcement.

Broun said the issue should be left to states to decide and waved a pocket-size Constitution as he criticized the bill as an unjustified expansion of federal power.

The arguments in response don't seem outrageous - particularly the if-we-pass-a-bill-we-have-to-worry-about-enforcement part. Just because something's wrong doesn't mean that the federal government needs to step in and do something. There are many areas in which the states should be the only regulator. Yes, the cost is low, but it's a continuing cost and sets a precedent for other regulations. Moreover, the Feds can't solve the core issue (monkey ownership).

I do like the outcome of the bill, think Hilzoy's arguments on the merits are spot on, and think it should be illegal to own monkeys as pets. But there are a lot of worthy things out there: is this an issue that deserves federal involvement when compared to the worthy alternatives? Or the many other issues facing us? Maybe yes, maybe no.

So, put me down as: "unsure Congress should spend time on this bill but, since they did, fine that it passed."

"opposition from some Republicans who said it would not avert attacks on humans because it does not address the larger issue of primate ownership."

This puzzles me. I would have thought that the reason the bill addresses interstate and international trafficking rather than ownership was because of, well, the Constitution and those pesky little restrictions on Congressional power. Restrictions that, last time I checked, Republicans claimed to support.

How odd.

"First off, "helper monkeys" are just that: monkeys, not apes. And small monkeys at that, not (say) Colobus or rhesus.

Smaller, more trainable, and while not as easy to control as, say, a dog or cat, still more controllable than an ape."

So does the bill go too far in restricting all primates, where the danger is in larger ones? Or is this helper monkey provision a similar problem?

It is not that I am in favor of monkey ownership, I am questioning the wisdom of allowing monkey helpers if the dangers to people and damage to monkeys is so great...particularly since I would assume some monkey helpers wash out of the system just as dog helpers do, and presumably in the process of monkey helper training are now socialized to a more human habitat and not able to go back to a monkey social system. What happens to the washouts now that they can't be pets?

jrudkis: I believe the ones allowed in the bill are Capuchins: new world apes, very smart, small. I have no idea how they train them -- I hadn't heard of the program until I read the bill and saw that they were exempted, and the only reason I know they're Capuchins is because they are identified in the bill by genus, and I thought: hmm, I wonder what that is in real life?

That said, it's not completely inconceivable that Capuchins could be trained by very knowledgeable, dedicated, skilled people. I have no idea. (Likewise, while I would be really skeptical of the idea of seeing-eye wolves, am I sure that no canid other than domestic dogs could possibly be trained for this purpose? That seeing-eye jackals or coyotes would be not just really hard, but impossible? No.)

But that wouldn't mean that they should be owned by people without that level of training, skill, and commitment.

This puzzles me. I would have thought that the reason the bill addresses interstate and international trafficking rather than ownership was because of, well, the Constitution and those pesky little restrictions on Congressional power. Restrictions that, last time I checked, Republicans claimed to support.

How odd.

I don't think it should. True, the interstate limitation on the bill is to satisfy the SCt's commerce clause jurisprudence. So the "must" is satisfied. But there's a popular strain of constitutional thought -- popular enough to have been taught to me in my Con Law class back in law school -- that legislatures should also ask the "ought" questions when it comes to the constitution because the Sct can't.

So I have an opposite reaction to the concept expressed by Broun. It's both understandable and laudatory. But I also agree with you in another sense. The reason why Broun's statement seems odd is that Congresspeople almost never consider the ought issues unless they've already made a decision on the merits. "Ought" is always window dressing. That's a shame, really.

I'm not sure that Capuchin helper-monkeys are trained by "very knowledgeable, dedicated, skilled people."

It was my understanding that they are allowed to be trained by amateur escape artists:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Y_The_Last_Man

Wonderful, TJ. I hope you videod it!

here is a video about training the helper monkeys:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jo4g2aKscaQ

Keeping an intelligent animal as a simple pet is problematic even when that animal is a dog. They often cause trouble when they are bored. I imagine that probalem is much larger with very intelligent primates with nothing to do.

Because Republicans are assholes.

This has been another edition of Simple Answers to Simple Questions.

Von, I think the "precedent" here was set back around 1776, over the protests of John Hancock. That is to say, this is a bog-standard smuggling law. Declare an item contraband, and set a penalty for import. Not new, not strange, not an expansion of federal power, and not difficult for the local cops to enforce, to the extent any primates get past customs in the first place. The market for primate pets is pretty small anyway; once outlawed, the trade will probably dry up fast. I wouldn't be surprised if most of that $5M is the cost of informing customs, police, and a handful of importers and pet store chains that the law exists.

I doubt there will be any need to criminalize ownership as such, once the imports are cut off -- there's no other source. On the bright side, if anything could stir our American ingenuity (TM) to solve the many difficulties of breeding endangered species in captivity, this would be it, so it's win-win. :)

Apparently, the monkey helpers assist paralyzed individuals with a variety of tasks at home. These are not things that dogs can do. See here for more information. The video is pretty interesting, though it doesn't tell us whether the monkeys can make a cappucino, which you would think would be a basic skill.

This thread is strangely lacking a discussion of the coming use of monkey butlers.

[...] As "Under the Sea" plays, a fantasy sequence is imagined with the kids living in a wonderful tree settlement. Martin takes a shower. Wendell uses a water slide. Sherri and Terri drive a bamboo and grass car. Ralph pigs out on food and a monkey butler brings Nelson a drink. Back to reality.

BART
And every night the monkey butlers will regale us with jungle stories.

NELSON
How many monkey butlers will there be?

BART
One at first. But he'll train others.

All the kids marvel at such a great future. Bart climbs down from the rock.

And so it shall be.

Monkey joke:

A hat seller, on waking from a nap under a tree, found that a group of monkeys had taken all his hats to the top of the tree. In exasperation he took off his own hat and flung it to the ground. The monkeys, known for their imitative urge, hurled down the hats, which the hat seller promptly collected.

Half a century later his grandson, also a hat seller, set down his wares under the same tree for a nap. On waking, he was dismayed to discover that monkeys had taken all his hats to the treetop.

Then he remembered his grandfather’s story, so he threw his own hat to the ground. But, mysteriously, none of the monkeys threw any hats, and only one monkey came down. It took the hat on the ground firmly in hand, walked up to the hat seller, gave him a slap and said, "You think only you have a grandfather?"

More seriously, the NYT had a long piece yesterday on people who live with primates.

It pretty much backs up the conclusions here, but with a bunch of anecdotes as well as expert opinion.

Bernard's joke has the tremendous advantage of making my points with humor, an essential quality that I lack.
I suspect that bored monkeys/apes/dogs (all intelligent species) have lots in common with bored...human beings.
Working in a meaningful way, with a sense of purpose does wonders for this kind of boredom.
It would be interesting to study the relationship between helper monkeys and their "owners". I suspect that in certain cases it is quite complex. And that the animals are doing ok. As far as allowing them to behave the way that their ancestors did (in the wild, LOL), we have already so much modified their world that I think that this is impossible. When WE transform the face of the earth as fast as we have in the past 200 years, obliging ourselves to modify our own behavior, we can only expect that other animals must modify THEIR behavior also.
For info, I am NOT an animal nut.
But, I DO think that we, as animals, must put ourselves in perspective. Which we are STILL not doing...
And I do get squeamish when I realize that the entire great ape population would fit into one football field, and that WE number....
You get the point.

Thanks for the heads up, hilzoy--I've written to my Senators.

Seems to me like threats to general public health (infectious disease carrying capacity with easy species barrier to leap) and public safety should be at least partially under government oversight/control.

Why did so many Republicans vote against the bill?

A variety of reasons, probably, but I suspect one is that the bill refers to the importation of "non-human primates". This implies that humans are primates, which offends the anti-evolution sensibilities of many in that party. Voting for the bill would be tantamount to declaring in statute that humans are primates! Horrors!

TJ's suggestion that Republicans oppose bans on enslaving primates because they hope to prevent the birth of the Planet of the Apes is actually a perfect example of how Republicans go wrong.

Anyone who has seen "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes" knows that it was humans keeping apes as pets and household servants that led ultimately to their revolution and dominance.

So once again, Republican policies lead to the exact opposite of their intended outcome.

"And ask yourself this: how would a human doctor even know to look for a disease normally found only in macaques?)"

Yep. I work in a lab with macaques, and we get special medic alert cards to carry.

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