Off the Trail

The DNA fallacy of human and non-human animals

I love watching otters which, to my regret, led me to click on this CNN article recently.

It’s about a zoo in Belgium that paired a family of sea otters with orangutans to help keep the orangutans entertained. I can’t say for sure that the orangutans are entertained but my clicking on the photo below is proof that we humans need entertainment.

Putting aside the fact that I have no love for zoos, the following excerpt is what led me in a fit to write this blog post:

According to zoo spokesman Mathieu Goedefroy, they “[orangutans] must be entertained, occupied, challenged and kept busy mentally, emotionally and physically at all times.”

Orangutans share 97% of their DNA with humans and as a result require a lot of attention to keep them occupied, Goedefroy said.

So let me get this straight. Because orangutans and are so closely related to humans, they need a lot of mentally challenging activities. Unlike, say, a bird or a fish or my cat (who howls at me if I don’t walk him 4-6 times a day).

The fallacy here is that animals who are more closely related to human animals are somehow more intellectual, more deserving of respect from the human animal.

The DNA connection is just another tool that we humans use to rank some species ahead of others.

I believe the word for this is “speciesism.” But it’s a deeply ingrained misconception that we’ve been raised with and that zoos continue to perpetrate. Because if we believe every animal in a zoo is deserving of equal amounts of engagement, mental stimulation, and space — zoos would quickly run out of space.

We are all animals. We are all deserve respect. And we could all use a fair amount of mental stimulation — which, I suppose, this article provided me (though not in the way I would have liked).

PS: Orang is Indonesian for “person.” Hutan for “forest.” Person of the forest. Not “animal.” Person.