Our phoney sentiments for animals

Only when cruelty becomes media-fodder do the British remember that they are animal-lovers

HAVE YOU been to Monkey World yet? The word is that this popular hang-out for primates in Dorsetshire has recently been inundated with visitors eager to see Trudy, the chimpanzee who was so cruelly misused by that Cruella de Vil of the moment, Mary Chipperfield.

The roads leading to Monkey World apparently throng with cars bearing "Save Trudy" stickers. Outside the cage where the little creature now lives with her new family, under the care of her adoptive mother Peggy and alpha male Roger, families gather to gawp and gurgle while journalists of the damp Kleenex school squeeze out the kind of gooey, saccharine prose normally reserved for tragic tug-of-love toddlers.

"Trudy went indoors and flopped in the sawdust and the air from the central heating vents sent a sleepy warmth swirling around her," went one account. "Peggy nudged her until her tired little head fell comfortably against her chest. Roger looked down from his perch. His family was safe." Meanwhile the Daily Mail's "Safe Home for Trudy" petition has proved to be a great hit among readers.

Somehow the news that the HIV virus originated from one of Trudy's distant cousins in west Africa, once hunted and eaten as bush meat, has pointed up the absurdity of our new phoney sentimentality towards animals. The same type of family punter who visits Monkey World to see primates in cages will also have chortled with pleasure at the sight of dolphins jumping through hoops in some nightmarish pleasure park, and of elephants standing on stools in a circus - perhaps Chipperfield's circus. One of the most successful TV advertisements of recent years has featured chimpanzees whose apparently human grins and grimaces are, in fact, expressions of stress and fear.

It is only when cruelty becomes visible media-fodder that the British remember that they are animal-lovers. So the mistreatment of a donkey in some distant country - beaten, starved, or dropped from the top of a tower for obscure religious reasons - can cause an uproar, while the incomparably more inhumane practice of battery farming in our own country goes unnoticed. After all, we are not obliged to see the means of meat production, merely to benefit from it in our supermarkets. Those enraged by the idea of a fox being hunted and killed are utterly indifferent to the depredation of the countryside through intensive farming, the ever- accelerating decline of mammal, bird and insect species caused by the grubbing of hedgerows by agribusiness and subsidy-crazed farmers. On the whole, we prefer to be concerned about a little wounded hedgehog that plucks the heartstrings of millions of viewers on one of Rolf Harris's vet shows.

But there's something particularly unnerving and creepy about contemporary attitudes to the great apes with whom, as we are constantly reminded, we share all but 2 per cent of our genetic make-up.

Thanks to the efforts of evolutionary scientists, we have begun to see chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orang-utans as honorary humans, uncontaminated by civilisation - a late-20th-century version of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's noble savage. There are earnest campaigns to grant the upper primates the same moral rights under law as human beings. In various American universities, academics bully luckless chimpanzees into some form of communication that is recognisable to Homo sapiens.

Of course, the connections may well be there. One study, reported in Robert Wright's The Moral Animal, suggested that promiscuity in human females falls somewhere between that of chimpanzees and gorillas: the tendency of women visiting a singles bar around the time of ovulation to wear more make-up and jewellery than at other times is the equivalent of the vivid genital display of female chimps.

Doubtless, there are those who will see the astonishing randiness of bonobos, or pygmy chimps, who use casual and random sex as a form of social bonding, as justifying similar behaviour in the human world.

But, together, evolutionary theory and the proliferation of wildlife programmes seem to have distorted our view of the natural world. We are not as other animals. On the whole, we do not kill younger members of our social groupings if they are sired by rival males, as gorillas do sometimes; nor do we hunt down members of close species to our own in the way that chimpanzees do to colobus monkeys.

Those of us who have been lucky enough to see upper primates in the wild are left in no doubt of the vast gap represented by that small genetic difference. In fact, when I saw a group of gorillas, habituated to the presence of humans, in the Virunga mountains of what was then Zaire, it was the behaviour of the human tourists, posing in front of the great silverback as if she were a guard outside Buckingham Palace, that seemed odd.

Even there, a process of domestication, of Trudification, seemed to be taking effect.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished

TV reviewGrace Dent: Jimmy McGovern's new drama sheds light on sex slavery in the colonies

Arts and Entertainment
Australia's Eurovision contestant and former Australian Idol winner Guy Sebastian

Eurovision 2015Australian Idol winner unveiled as representative Down Under

Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable