Friday, September 06, 2002

SOME PRISONS ARE BETTER THAN OTHERS

The captivity controversy
Tony Lee Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

It's like a looney-tunes game of snakes and ladders, or the crash site of an alien spaceship--three 15-meter-high metal climbing frames with platforms, ladders and ropes strung every which way.

For the 14 chimpanzees at Kyoto University's Primate Research Institute (PRI) in Inuyama, Aichi Prefecture, it's home sweet home....

However, despite its size and enriched environment, the facility is not ideal. Roger Fouts, a U.S. researcher who has worked extensively with Washoe, the first chimp to learn sign language, says that both the Inuyama enclosure and his own similarly scaled facility at Central Washington University's primate center are "like prisons" compared with the best conditions for chimps in the wild. "Free-living" chimps, he says, can range up to 10 kilometers in a day and build nests 50 meters high.

He goes even further. "We treat them like prisoners--sometimes well-cared-for prisoners, but prisoners nonetheless."...

For Matsuzawa, the real prisoners are caged in poorly administered zoos under horrifying conditions that can lead to aberrant behavior like eating feces. More than half of all chimp mothers in zoos refuse to rear their infants, he says.

To the extent that studying chimps is a necessity, PRI's enclosure is the best available, Matsuzawa says.

Fouts says his center will not breed its subjects. Matsuzawa, however, envisions further generations of chimps at PRI, allowing better study of family relations....