My letter to the editor of BBC Wildlife was printed in this month’s issue. I wrote about my impression of an illegal primate trade in the UK featured on a previous issue, which reminded me of human slavery where lives were treated as expendable chattel.
The story of TikTok tells the marmoset baby monkey who was rescued from a miserable life as a pet in a birdcage abandoned alone. It raised awareness of animal abuse in mental and physical forms as pets at the mercy of whims and caprice of the owners, who regard them as nothing more than live, expendable toys. TikTok was first bought for its exotic beauty and rarity in the illegal animal market, but the owner soon lost interest in the new pet, forsaking due care owed to him. When TikTok was finally rescued, he was in a state of fear and shock, so he was put together with another rescued older marmoset who cared for him like his son. Looking at the two photos, I thought of enslaved people who were sold off like commodities seen from Alex Haley’s heartrending saga of American black family “Roots.” In the story, humans are perceived and treated as nothing more than talking stock, and therefore the most basic unit of society in the form of family is unthinkable for slaves. Mothers and children are forcefully separated, let alone husbands and wives are for mating purposes only to multiply the population. Such comparison is not a stretch of the imagination but a sheer fact of association.
We have come a long way to the progress of the mind regarding human rights and animal rights compared to the past, or we like to think it so. Perhaps it is our animal instinct to dominate what is perceived as controllable. That is why a force of civilization in the form of rules and law is essential to reining in our unruly and crude id in implementing reason as a way to prevent cruelty against lives. But such rationalism should always complement humanism lest we should act on the mechanism of the mind. And let us not forget that those who mistreat animals also do the same to their human brethren.
Whether it is my animal zodiac sign of Tiger that is believed to be highly incompatible with anyone with that of monkey, let me just clarify that monkeys are my least favorite animals. However, that doesn’t mean that I should not feel strongly about the article from a recent issue of BBC Wildlife about the U.K.’s primate trade accompanied by the title photo of the baby marmoset named TikTok. Call it milk of human kindness. I cannot just leave the pages closed and forget about it as a piece of memory. The images and words still haunt me, which prompts an enduring reckoning, resulting in writing this essay.
The primate trade in the U.K. and here in the States evokes the human history of slavery. Under slavery, human lives were counted as chattel, and the families were continuously disintegrated because of volatile trade-offs. On the same token, keeping primates as pets seems no less different from colonialists or slave owners whose eyes were set upon the exotic physical attributes of the people they subordinated.
The article has also taken me to my brief research into the U.S. primate trade with the following facts: in 2012, 19 states, including California, where I live, had outright bans on private monkey ownership. The primates are considered a threat to wildlife and public safety and health because their habitats and nature are not agreeable to our environment despite our conventional knowledge of primates as the closest to our species lost in the evolution tree. Come to think of it, the idea of “Planet of Apes” has a point in reversing the directions of gaze from humans to apes, and vice versa, showing us why the two species could not cohabitate by confining them in the opposite environments.
We should not think of animals as live toys or ornaments that will satisfy our whimsical, capricious tastes. From pets to wildlife, animals are not our property but companions. I know it for sure when I feel a little heart of my cat Toro sleeping at my feet.