At first glance, this video of a chimpanzee wearing a virtual reality (VR) headset might bring a smile to your face and joy to your heart. He's deep in it, frantically waving his hands around, much like a human experiencing VR for the first time.
Delving deeper, though, might uncover some unsettling facts about the situation.
The video was taken by Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, the founder of The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species. He houses animals like chimpanzees, lions, tigers and wolves and, at times, uses them for human entertainment purposes.
Though seeing the chimp wildly flail his arms around could evoke laughter, it's important to keep in mind that chimps aren't really aware of what's going on the way a human is.
“Even a child, you can explain what it is—you can give them background information. You can’t do that with a chimpanzee,” said Kerry Bowman, a bioethicist at the University of Toronto and the president of the Canadian Ape Alliance. “Chimpanzees are different and their brains are different. It could trigger other responses we’re not aware of.”
Bowman makes an interesting point. This chimp has not the frame of reference we have as humans.
“I found it troubling,” he said. “I wouldn’t say the chimpanzee looks incredibly distressed, but he does look disoriented.”
Putting animals on display rubs many activists and scientists the wrong way. Frans de Waal, prominent primatologist and an expert on chimpanzee behavior, had one brief thing to say when he saw the video: “Entertainment chimpanzee. Should be illegal.”
So is it right or wrong to put animals through these things against their will? The chimp seemed like he wanted to do it, but it's hard to tell. Chimps, in captivity, are often trained to accept whatever situation they are in, regardless of their feelings on the situation.
“The question it raises for me is, to what end? What is this for?” asks Bowman. “If chimpanzees are in captivity at all, you have a really heightened ethical responsibility.
"The mindset is not these magnificent creatures that live in these tropical forests,” he said. “It shows a mindset of—they’re property.”
Do you agree? If we even keep animals in captivity at all, should we provide an environment as close to their origins as possible or are they evolving along with us, using technology all the way?