Sandra’s story is a lot like other stories of journeys to the United States. Born in Germany, raised in Brazil, Sandra lived a very hard life. Shuffled from one place to the next, had a child taken away from her, and finally was granted sanctuary in Florida. Sandra is 33 years old… Sandra is an Orangutan.
Sandra was awarded “human” rights in a precedent setting legal decision. The “child” was a baby orangutan that was identified in the online article about Sandra’s plight as the ape’s “daughter.” If only those on the “pro-choice” side were as free and easy with humanizing nouns for the unborn. Okay, I’m done with all the parentheticals… for now.
Time for plain language. At the risk of sounding dominionistic, there is a hierarchy to creation as so clearly laid out in Genesis. Even though we, I mean real humans, are the only ones listed in scripture as being made in the image of God, it doesn’t give us the moral authority to wield power senselessly over the animal kingdom. But it does give us the responsibility to manage them whenever necessary and not do them harm whenever possible. That is a nature preserve away from what is being proposed with the rights case for Sandra the Orangutan.
The judge who made the historic ruling in Sandra’s favor was quoted saying that “…animals are sentient beings and that the first right they have is our obligation to respect them.” What a loaded statement. Let’s just take the word sentient. It means to be able to feel certain things like fear and affection. It also means having the power of reason. There is no question animals can feel pain, panic – the fight or flight reflex – and maybe even happiness. You might also be able to suggest that animals possess some form of reason as it is reasonable to want to survive rather than not and all animals have the survival trait. But this does not put us on the same phylum playground.
Here’s a list to ponder…Chimpanzees, bears, sharks, rabbits, and chickens. All these animals are certainly sentient to one level or another. When a bear is poked by an electric prod by a circus performer it obviously feels pain. If a shark bites down on a piece of bait with a hook in it, he knows immediately he is in trouble. If a chimp is forced to wear a tuxedo, top hat and smoke a cigarette on a television sound stage he knows he isn’t in the rain forest anymore. Besides being sentient on various levels, these animals have something else in common…they eat their young. Not all the time, not often at all – well, some of them not so often – but they do eat their young, and the young of their fellow chimps, bears, sharks, rabbits and chickens if the opportunity presents itself. You could easily say it is reasonable for them to do so as this is done sometimes by these animals when there is no other food available.
This does not make them “bad” animals. It just makes them animals.
Like a lot of bad things in the world, it can be traced to the Disney corporation…Only half-kidding. All those years, even when Uncle Walt himself had his hand personally on the tiller, played a role in giving us an unrealistic view of the animal kingdom which, if the story of poor Sandra is any indication, has long lasting consequences.
Disney’s animated classic Bambi has a scene where Bambi’s father meets his son with these heavy words – “I am your father.” One of my brothers had a great wise-crack about that line. He suggested, Bambi’s dad should have started pointing to all the other deer in the forest and say, “And I’m his father, and his father, and his father….” Far be it from me to speculate on a cartoon character’s moral turpitude, but it is clear, nature’s way is not always the human way. Sadly, when it comes to “eating” one’s own young, we humans may be catching up with the chimps as so easily dispose of unwanted or inconvenient babies of our own making.
In a world where it is hard enough to humanize human refugees, to attach this kind of anthropomorphic patina to an ape, as cute and sentient as she may be, is human folly (another trait solely under human dominion). And the final irony lost on the authors of the article about Sandra the Orangutan is found in its premise of a sad animal’s plight living inside a cage for most of its life…but now it will live in a sanctuary in Florida. I guarantee you this sanctuary, nice as it is, will have barriers the ape will not be able to cross. So, it’s still in a cage. It must be. It is an animal after all.