Koko the Gorilla and Animal Rights.

As many of you probably already know, Koko, the signing gorilla, recently died.

Actually though, for some time now I have wondered about this particular case. Koko never “spoke” of deep philosophical or scientific matters, it’s true. But she did show a certain depth of emotional intelligence. And perhaps a rudimentary general intelligence too.

I know people often argue, animals have no (or conversely few) rights because they have no sentience or intelligence (along with other human mental capacities, it is argued). But Koko seemed to disprove most of this. Am I wrong?

I also have to tell you, I grew up with animals, mostly dogs and cats. And I have noticed they do have all the emotions humans do. Love, hate, empathy, mercy, and so forth. And no, I am not just anthropomorphizing them. Actually, FWIW, I have always had a very dispassionate view of life in general. Believe me.

So does this open up a whole new aspect of the situation of animal rights? I suppose, sometimes animal welfare does have to take a back seat to human rights, like in the case of curing fatal diseases. But could even this change some day, in light of Koko, and what I just said too?


I don’t mean to be the contrarian asshole, but the extent to which Koko was expressing deep thoughts might well have been a reflection of people wanting to see what they wanted to see. Gorillas are, of course, relatively intelligent creatures that have feelings, and they should be treated with great decency and respect; I am just suggesting caution in the degree of depth we assign to gorillas based on how well people think Koko knew sign language. Koko’s teacher and usual interpreter, Francine Patterson, was known for her rather remarkable but unsupported claims and her propensity for creative interpretation of Koko’s signs.

Well, honestly, you probaby a

You seem to have suddenly cut yourself short in your comment. BTW, it’s okay if your comment is very critical of what I have to say. I welcome that. But what does “a…” stand for? I hope I am being silly here. But I shudder to think;):cool::).

Perhaps his pets attacked him mid-post?

Perhaps he was grabbed in mid sentence by a disapproving gorilla? :dubious:

People who say that are completely wrong and you do not need Koko to see it. Just live with a dog for a week and anyone will see they have intelligence and emotions which makes them, by definition, sentient.

I think what people are really arguing is do animals have a soul. Some religions would have it that the soul is unique to humans. They then figure that anything without a soul has no rights of any sort and can be treated and used as humans see fit.

This definition would seem to make a lot of animals sentient.

Most, possibly all, animals are sentient.

Not sure about some insects or fish.

Fair enough. I was always under the impression that sentient meant self-aware.

That definition does seem overly broad. So broad you could maybe get bacteria in there.

There’s got to be more to it I would think.

“… Actually do.” I’ll fix my post later :slight_smile:

Bacteria are not self aware. Sentient means capable of sensing. For absolutely sure, all higher animals are sentient; a cow is sentient. Bacteria have no nervous systems. They react to stimuli, but “sentient” is a different matter.

Suppose that Koko has no deep intelligence or emotions. Does that then mean that she has no rights, can be tortured with impunity, etc.? Do only species with anthropomorphic qualities deserve welfare and protection? Most people who advocate animal rights say no, it is not relevant. See also discussions of efforts to conserve endangered species.

I could make the only slightly hyperbolic observation that most humans show no evidence of a particularly deep inner life, yet nobody is saying we should go all Modest Proposal or legalize slavery. On the contrary, there are whole lists of rights that everybody should enjoy (and too often in practice do not).

I read recently, can’t remember where, that Kokos signing was barely rudimentary. Not all could understand her. That doesn’t mean she wasn’t intelligent. I am positive with all the work they did with her she probably was above average for her breed.
As the owner of a fairly dumb dog ( really, no lights on, at all) I say she deserves my compassion more than an intelligent dog might. She would probably drown in her water bowl if I weren’t there to stop it. My level of care does not depend on the animals intellectual ability. I think all living things deserve respect.
Oh, except spiders. :wink:

If gorillas tasted like cows or chickens they’d probably already be extinct.

They apparently taste a bit like smoky-flavored veal and hunting them for meat is in fact a very serious problem and may be driving some populations into extinction as we speak.

Cows and chickens are far from extinct.
ETA if gorillas and monkeys were widely deemed a good food source there would be factory farms full of them.

Well domestication has a number of requirements, among them reaching maturity quickly, willingness to breed in captivity and docile by nature. Gorillas certainly fail the last test.

Why Can’t All Animals Be Domesticated? By Natalie Wolchover:

Isn’t it surprising how quickly domesticated animals, in a few generations, can revert back to wild. The feral hog situation in S.Arkansas is pervasive.

Game and Fish encouraged that, though. A guy in Tull was raising them and releasing them under the auspices of G&F.