cover image Rattling the Cage: Toward Legal Rights for Animals

Rattling the Cage: Toward Legal Rights for Animals

Steven M. Wise. Perseus Books Group, $25 (362pp) ISBN 978-0-7382-0065-1

In a groundbreaking study, Harvard lecturer Wise argues that chimpanzees and bonobos (sometimes called ""pygmy chimpanzees"") should be granted the status of legal personhood to guarantee the basic protections of bodily integrity and freedom from harm. A lawyer who lectures on animal rights law, Wise has spent 20 years fighting for the interests of nonhuman primates, dolphins, deer, cats, dogs, bald eagles, goats and other species. Documenting the treatment of our close primate cousins, which are routinely kidnapped for biomedical research, slaughtered for their meat and caged in roadside zoos, Wise notes that chimpanzees and bonobos are nearing annihilation. Their DNA structure is a 99% match to humans', and our brain structures are incredibly similar. Furthermore, Wise cites studies of primate social life revealing that chimps exhibit keen sensitivity to others, conflict resolution, reciprocal exchanges and toolmaking abilities; ""enculturated"" chimps can add numerals and learn abstract symbols. Indeed, an increasing number of biologists insist that chimpanzees and humans should be grouped in the same genus, Homo. Ten years ago this book would have been ridiculed or ignored, but the tide is turning: in 1996, the British government banned the use of great apes in biomedical research, and respected international law commentators now support whales' legal right to life. Although one could argue that overlegislation is not the best way to combat society's maltreatment of animals, Wise's proposal to accord animals fundamental legal rights could some day be adopted (as chimpanzee expert Goodall believes it will be). This impassioned, closely argued brief presents a formidable challenge to the treatment of animals perpetrated by agribusiness, scientific research, the pharmaceutical industry, hunters, live-animal traders and others. It's a clarion call for rethinking the animal-human relationship. (Feb.)