3 AUGUST 1996, Page 22


Loquacious apes

Sir: Most of the points raised by Claudia Parsons (`The wrongs of rights') and Victo- ria Elliot (`Sheep may not safely graze') in your issue of 27 July might well have been answered by Channel 4 some months ago, had it not unaccountably missed the oppor- tunity. In what Jon Snow wittily described as a debate, Channel 4 attempted to per- suade the public, with the aid of Mary Warnock, that apes have rights. I must con- fess that I did not watch the programme, as I have a recurring nightmare that Mary Warnock is my mother; however, I did read the reports in the papers.

One of the contributors to the pro- gramme was an American woman who claimed that she had some sort of ape that had a human vocabulary of 3,000 words. (I have often wondered why it is that apes become so loquacious the minute they land in the United States, yet my American wife, one of their close cousins according to Mary Warnock, can sit for hours in the evening never uttering a word.) Apparently, Julius Caenf wrote one of the most famous polemics, his Gallic Wars, with a vocabulary of some 1,600 words. What was Channel 4 afraid of? With such a wordy champion of animal rights, why did they not produce this ape? The only great ape that I have ever seen was at the London Zoo when I was a child. He wasn't talking or I would have remembered. He was examining his person with a sad look on his face, as if wondering how such a large animal as he could possi- bly have such a small person. Perhaps Channel 4 feared something similar, though I cannot imagine why, when one considers their programming, or maybe the ape objected to the presence of Mary Warnock on the same programme. I think that we should be told.

William Foster

Spindlebank, School Lane, Wimore, Herefordshire