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Chimpanzee Voices Plea

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The following article, written by Paul Harvey (an American nationally-syndicated columnist) was published in a Los Angeles newspaper on January 1, 1980.

 
 
I have just endured one of the most cold-sweat experiences of my life.
 
I heard the “voice of an animal.”
 
Any hunter has heard animals cry before they die – yet, we go on hunting.
 
If that wounded animal instead looked up at us and through bleeding lips said, “Please don’t kill me”, could we then kill so casually?
 
Would it make all that much difference if the animal could talk?
 
I’m asking – because now, they can.
 
My new perspective on this matter came on recently and rather suddenly.
 
I have always contributed what I can to animal rescue efforts.  I am inclined to anthropomorphization of family dogs and cats.
 
In recent years I have racked my considerable arsenal of hunting guns.  I just don’t feel like killing anymore.
 
Yet I get a letter from Dave Corbin in Fayette, Iowa, which says:  “Hey, Paul Harvey!  You eat your steak, your trout, your pork chops, your pheasant under glass – because somebody else did your killing for you.  How do you justify that?”
 
I can’t justify it if I let myself think about it.
 
Now something’s happened that demands that I think about it.
 
When I relate my experience of having heard an animal “talk”,  I am not referring to the mimicry of a parrot.
 
Here’s what happened.
 
My son Paul, researching a “Rest of the Story” story for broadcast, became acquainted with a research project at the University of Oklahoma.
 
There they have been teaching an animal to talk – specifically, a 15 year old female chimpanzee named Washoe.
 
This is basic recognition communication, mostly single unit:  big, small, up, down.
 
Since 1966, this chimpanzee has learned 140 signs in Standard American Sign Language.
 
After all this learning and more learning, the project directors decided that Washoe was prepared now to “conceptualize”.
 
In lay language, instead of imitating some human’s words, the chimp was ready to express thoughts of her own.
 
Now, understand Washoe is a pampered animal in the University laboratory – well fed, physically comfortable, safe from harm.  She had “security”.
 
And yet – when she was able to put words together on her own, into a phrase – these were her first three.
 
And she has said them again – repeatedly.  To visitors, the voice from the cage is saying:
 
“LET ME OUT.”
 
 

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