Death ‘according to protocol’

Death ‘according to protocol’

They are our closest relative, sharing 98.6% of our DNA. They use similar gestures to us (they hug and kiss) and have similar behavior (discipline and social structure) and emotions (sadness, joy and pain). Only language is the big thing that seems to set us humans apart from chimps. The alpha males, in particular, have a slew of special qualities: They keep the peace in their group, intervening in fights, responding to injustices and comforting members who may be in a position of weakness. They feel empathy. That is how similar they are to us. Yet, this is how different they are too. The chimpanzee that was shot dead at the Attica Zoological Park last week was one such alpha male. He paid for his desire for a moment outside a prison cell with his life.

Who’s to blame? There are two answers to that question and the first one, the obvious one, is the zoo’s management. That goes without saying. But there’s a second answer, too, and one that is not so easy: We are all to blame, as a society, because we like to rage on social media but do nothing in fact to protect animals. “The most dangerous animal in a zoo is man,” according to Canadian writer Yann Martel. Really, how many of the thousands of visitors to the zoo, people who have enjoyed looking at the animal exhibits, perhaps with their children, have the courage to admit the truth of this?

But it is also the fault of the state, because of its indifference and its false tears. Despite the obvious fact that we are in the throes of pre-election fever, I cannot understand the purpose of the letter sent by the deputy minister for the environment, Giorgos Amyras, to the management of the Attica Zoo in response to the incident. In it, among other things, he demanded a complete account of the provenance of the zoo’s chimps, the arrangements made so they cannot escape their enclosures and what is done to protect visitors in the event of an escape. These all sound like things he should already know. 

I also fail to understand another letter he sent to the relevant services, demanding that they dispatch a team of experts to investigate the living conditions of the animals at the zoo. If they had done so earlier, maybe the chimp would never have been executed (as were two jaguars in 2018), “according to protocol.”

One final note: I can’t help wondering, if I were a chimp, what would I prefer? Being shot and killed after experiencing a few moments of freedom or waking up back in my cage?

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