Send in the Clowns
An Animal Rights Article from


Steven Wise, Nonhuman Rights Project
May 2012

This week I watched a paradigm shift on PBS’s “NewsHour.” Discussing whether chimpanzees, our genetic first cousins, should be subjected to biomedical experimentation, the show focused on a San Antonio primate concentration camp named “The Texas Biomedical Institute”.

The Texas Biomedical Institute trotted out the usual suspects in an attempt to whitewash its ugliness. There was the solemn, oh-so-concerned, and highly competent scientist, Dr. Robert E. Lanford, who has apparently made a good living torturing chimpanzees for almost 30 years. Along the way he learned to bat puppy eyes at the camera and say, “I do appreciate the sentiment that goes with chimpanzees. I feel it. I go home and say: Are we still on the right track? Are we still doing the right research? Is it absolutely necessary? And I say yes!” While we must appreciate how difficult it must be for Dr. Lanford to repress such sentiment for ten thousand straight days, he has not reached the rhetorical depths of his boss, primate research center commandant, John VandeBerg, who told “Rock Center With Brian Williams” a few weeks earlier, that the chimpanzees imprisoned at the Texas Biomedical Institute are “treated with the utmost of reverence.’”

Explaining they knew that one chimpanzee, Rosie, had undergone 15 liver biopsies and 99 sedations, including several that sent her into seizure, “NewsHour” asked to film this reverential treatment. Lanford refused, because the Texas Biomedical Research Institute has “a mission to improve human health care and we believe that when people see that picture they can’t hear our mission anymore.” Observation of torture does indeed deafen normal humans in just that way.

The Texas Biomedical Research Institute brought forth Sabrina Bourgeois, who identifies herself as a “Senior Research Assistant/Animal Trainer” on Linked-In. Her “Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training and Behavior” biography states, “Sabrina Bourgeois has spent more than 15 years training domestic and exotic animals for ranches, farms, zoos, sanctuaries, and research facilities. Now, you and your dogs can benefit from the same training techniques she has used with apes, dolphins, bears, and other exotic species!”

Bourgeois would never work at the Texas Biomedical Institute if anything was amiss. “Some of my best friends are chimpanzees,” she says. “On a bad day I absolutely come and seek out my friends.” I recalled the Member of Parliament from the slave port of Liverpool who, during the great abolition debates in the House of Commons, rhapsodized the Caribbean plantation slaves were so happy he wished he could be one.

Chimpanzee experimentation is gasping for breath worldwide. Only the United States and Gabon tolerate it and the US federal government will not be funding it much longer. So the end of American chimpanzee vivisection has come to this: a rearguard of moral illiterates telling transparent lies, lacking even the flicker of integrity slaveowner Patrick Henry demonstrated when he replied to anti-slavery planter, Robert Pleasants’ 1773 criticisms of human slavery: “I am drawn by the general inconvenience of living without them, I will not; I cannot justify it; however culpable my conduct.”

When American chimpanzee vivisection whimpers out – and it will, soon – this will not be the end, but the beginning, of the work of the Nonhuman Rights Project. Chimpanzees must be recognized for the legal persons they are, holders of the fundamental legal rights to bodily integrity and bodily liberty. Never again.

Return to Animal Rights Articles