A Litigation Article from All-Creatures.org

Why We Fight for Nonhuman Rights: Ham's Story

From The Nonhuman Rights Project
January 2024

A U.S. Air Force film notes that after fifteen seconds at the equivalent of 150,000 feet, a young chimp becomes unable to perform his tasks, and it takes almost two and a half hours on average after re-pressurizing the chamber for him to return to his normal working ability. The film goes on to tout the importance of this research and says, “Somehow, one gets the impression, the chimpanzee is proud of his contribution.”

A US Air Force commander “greets” chimpanzee Ham after his flight on the Mercury Redstone rocket.

In April of 1957 in the forests of what is now Cameroon, a female chimpanzee forages with her troop while, across the continent in Kenya, a young English woman first sets foot in Africa. The rainy season is coming, and around July, the female chimpanzee will give birth to a baby boy.

We can’t know whether this is her first baby, but we know she tends him well. She nurses him and holds him and protects him during his vulnerable early life. She is his source of nourishment and his comfort, and his body is in constant contact with hers as she moves through the forest, builds their sleeping nests in the trees. He will be famous, this baby boy, before he is even four years old. The young English woman will be famous, too.

She is Jane Goodall, and she will tell us her story and the stories of the chimpanzees in Tanzania she comes to know and love. At first, she will be shunned as unscientific. She gives the chimps she observes names instead of numbers—David Greybeard and Goliath, Flo and her son Flint. She describes their emotions and personalities. She forces a redefinition of what it means to be human when she observes them making and using tools. Hers is a story many in the scientific community don’t want to hear, but she persists, and over time, she is proven right.

Chimps do make and use tools. They have culture. They have personalities and emotions and form deep bonds with others. They are intelligent and self-aware. Even their ability to be deceitful proves they can see a situation from another’s perspective. They can imagine what it is like to be someone else. Just as we can—just as we should as we turn our gaze back to the little chimp.

He will first be known as Subject 65 before eventually being called Ham. He will be the first great ape to be launched into space. And for many years and even still today, this is how his story will be told: that he is an intrepid space hero, an astrochimp, a celebrity. There are some dissenting voices, but they are the exception.

In most reports, there will be a sentence, maybe two, about how he is trapped or caught, or even just “brought” from present-day Cameroon to the Miami Rare Bird Farm, where he is sold in 1959 to the United States Air Force for $457. He is two years old.




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