Feb 15, 2010

Forgotten Animals

the Rehabilitation of Laboratory Primates
by Linda Koebner

This book is about how animals are treated in labs, particularly chimpanzees. It discusses why animals are used in experiments, the deplorable conditions they live in, how their capture from the wild depletes wild populations, and some (new at the time) programs attempting to give them better living conditions which would encourage them to reproduce, thus replenishing their numbers for science (taking pressure off wild populations).

I had two problems with this book, although one is not really its fault. First of all, the writing style is very dry and factual, a bit dull to take in. Except for a few refreshing chapters which suddenly describe what the animals might be feeling. They're easier to read, but subjective and feel a bit out of place compared to the rest of the text. Secondly, the information itself is outdated. I'm sure the treatment of animals in laboratory science and captive breeding have come a long way since the 1980's. This book predicted that at the end of its decade, chimps would be extinct in the wild. Though they are still critically endangered, they're certainly not gone yet. I can't imagine a child (it's juvenile non-fiction) reading this book- either they would be bored stiff, or upset by some of the unpleasant descriptions. Also, most of the individual people and chimpanzees mentioned in the book I've actually read about in other books, in far greater depth, back when I had a reading craze about great apes. So there just really wasn't much here for me. This is one case where I can see why it was culled (I got the book at a library sale). There's just better, more up-to-date material out there.

There was one point made near the end which got me thinking. The author talks about the importance of breeding programs collaborating with other facilities and zoos, so as to have the widest gene pool possible. At the same time, she says, the more docile chimps are most likely to be used for breeding, as they're easier to handle. Could we inadvertently, by only using the docile animals, be breeding a tamer or even domesticated chimpanzee? Thinking of all the books I've read recently on how dogs and cats became domesticated, this doesn't seem like such a wild surmise. But I feel fairly certain that's not happening.

Rating: 2/5 ........ 116 pages, 1984


  1. I couldn't bear to read a book about the way animals are treated in labs even if it is dry.

  2. I'm with Bermudaonion - I read Fast Food Nation and I had to stop reading the chapters on meat processing plants. That was why I stopped eating non-free-range pork. Poor chimps!

  3. I'm with the other two, I don't think I could bear to read a book like that.

    Your last paragraph brings up another question, genes are connected to each other in odd ways - classic example is deafness being coupled with white fur/pigmentation. Therefore, if they're only using the more docile chimps for breeding purposes, and if their docileness is coupled, however loosely with certain genes, wouldn't they be contaminating their own program by creating a specific type of chimp which may or may not effect the results of testing? In the long run, that plan seems unwise to me.

  4. Jenny- It was hard to read in parts, even though written simply, for children. The last part of the book was better, where it described improved programs and rehabilitation centers that gave chimps open spaces, the feel of grass for the first time in their lives, etc.

    Bermudaonion- Fast Food Nation was a pretty horrifying book (in a good kind of way). I try and buy free-range eggs whenever I can, now.

    BlackSheep- My thoughts exactly. It was, in fact, the odd combination of linked genes that made it possible for domestic dogs to come about so quickly, and with such a wide variety of shapes and sizes. I don't know if breeding programs still only used to easiest-to-handle animals, but I couldn't discover a way to find out.


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