The way we treat animals is inhuman

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The Independent Online
THE CIRCUS trainer Mary Chipperfield, who was convicted last week of 12 charges of cruelty to an orphaned chimpanzee, seems to be an unpleasant woman who deserves the opprobrium heaped on her. Andover magistrates' court heard how she mistreated the baby chimp, beating her with a riding crop and leaving her to whimper inconsolably.

Chimpanzees are sociable creatures and the account of Trudy's suffering was affecting to everyone except Mrs Chipperfield, who said on oath that she regretted nothing and would do the same again. She is even demanding the return of Trudy from the animal sanctuary where she has been adopted by a group of chimpanzees, prompting a public outcry.

There is clearly an overwhelming case for allowing Trudy to stay in her current home, Monkey World, in Dorset. The only reason she is in danger of being sent back is Mrs Chipperfield's claim that the animal is not her personal property but an asset of her company, Mary Chipperfield Promotions Ltd. The company has not been convicted of anything, her barrister insisted last week, so the chimpanzee should be returned. The question will be decided at a court hearing on 9 April, when Mrs Chipperfield and her husband, Roger Cawley, who was convicted of cruelty towards a sick elephant, appear for sentence.

Many people will feel an instinctive revulsion not just towards Mrs Chipperfield's attempt to use this legal device but the very idea of an animal being company property. I'm sure it happens in farming, where for all I know entire flocks of sheep turn up as assets on balance sheets. But the pictures of Trudy with her new mother, learning the social customs of her peer group, suggest sufficient parallels with a human family to raise the spectre of slavery in this case. Like a 19th-century plantation owner, Mrs Chipperfield apparently believes that any creature unfortunate enough to be placed in her care exists only to do her bidding - and that obedience should be enforced by the use of a whip, if she considers it necessary.

Public opinion is on Trudy's side, and rightly so. Yet there is something unsettling about reports of people telephoning Monkey World, sobbing down the line in distress over the chimpanzee's fate. The Daily Mail, which is campaigning to keep Trudy out of Mrs Chipperfield's hands, talked about the animal in frankly anthropomorphic terms: "That was baby Trudy over in the corner of the big, warm playroom with her small innocent eyes opening at the start of her first day of fame." Children pressed their noses to the glass to get a better view, one of them exclaiming, "Mummy, I love her".

Appealing as Trudy is, this comes very close to a campaign to save photogenic animals, especially ones which resemble us. And the impulse to view animals in human terms, which lies behind these extravagant outbursts of affection, is what attracts so many people to circuses and zoos in the first place. I remember, when I was nine or 10 years old, feeling uncomfortable about chimpanzees' tea parties and other spectacles which invited onlookers to regard grown-up animals as simulacra of human children - clumsy, amusing, precocious. When my parents took me to the circus, I didn't like it much when dogs in skirts walked on their hind legs or elephants shuffled unhappily round the ring, juggling plates with their trunks.

Sentimentality about animals encourages such displays but it also persuades us to think of them as toys or chattels, existing for our amusement. It is not a great leap from this assumption to Mary Chipperfield's belief that she can do what she likes with her animals, even to the point of punishing them savagely. As a society, we tend to be confused about these questions, not always able to see beyond individual cases and come to principled conclusions. It is clear that neither Mrs Chipperfield nor Mr Cawley are suitable people to be in charge of creatures like Trudy, but their behaviour raises a larger issue, which is why we continue to allow the exploitation of animals in circuses. The need for a public debate about our relations with non-human species grows ever more urgent, which is why the Government should fulfil its pre-election promise and set up a royal commission without further delay.

SIR PAUL McCartney has taken out adverts in several newspapers, claiming that radio and television stations have banned a newly released single by his late wife, Linda, because it contains explicit language. I don't in the least mind four-letter words, which I tend to use liberally myself, but Sir Paul's defence of his wife's dreadful lyrics is sentimental and ill-judged - as was his plea to us all, at the time of Lady McCartney's death from breast cancer last year, to "go veggie" as a tribute to her. Loyalty is an admirable quality, but the causes of free speech and animal rights deserve attention for more important reasons than the fact that a pop star's late wife felt strongly about them.