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Should monkeys have rights?

While checking my Facebook news feed this morning, I came across this NPR story Championing Life and Liberty for Animals. As a lifelong animal lover, I have always believed that all of God’s creatures should be treated with kindness and respect, despite the fact that I eat meat, wear leather products and understand that hunting can be a necessary evil to help reduce certain animal populations in certain regions, like deer, that can sometimes cause fatal accidents on highways.

The NPR story focuses on Mississippi resident Tim Lepard’s cowboy monkey rodeo – an act called Team Ghost Riders he has taken around the country for years featuring capuchin monkeys dressed in red, white and blue cowboy attire riding on the backs of dogs.

During one of Lepard’s recent appearances at a minor league baseball game in Maryland, the article states that a “handful” of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) showed up to voice concerns about the treatment of Lepard’s monkeys and how they were being used in the show. PETA says the monkeys are being treated inhumanely. Lepard disagrees.

Sam, the monkey star, has lived 14 years with Lepard, who said he doesn’t force his monkeys to perform and is inspected several times a year to make sure they are not being mistreated.

The article goes on to talk about Steven Wise, director of the Nonhuman Rights Project, an organization that wants to gain legal rights for other species. NPR writes: “In an address delivered in April 2012, at Pace University law school, Wise likened animals today to human slaves in 18th century England — invisible to the legal system, beings without rights. He cited the ruling of the British judge, Lord Mansfield, in the 1772 Somerset case that opened the door for the abolition of human slavery in England.”

I will preface this by saying that just the other day, I said aloud that I think some animals deserve rights, particularly chimps and other monkeys, who share more than 98 percent of DNA with us and are smarter than many people I have seen posting political comments on Facebook during election season.

Watch this video. I mean, this monkey feeding a baby tiger a bottle is putting a lot of parents to shame who can’t be bothered these days to care for the children they accidentally conceived.

But here’s the kicker for Mr. Wise. If monkeys are truly given equal rights, then someone is going to have to talk to the male ones about sexism.

tool1Case in point. Over a decade ago, I was assigned a story about Tim Lepard and his ghost-riding monkeys. I was already familiar with Lepard because he was friends with some of my family members and didn’t live far away from us.

In fact, when my Shetland pony, Little Bit, escaped from our pasture and took a walk on the county road above us, Lepard, driving along at that time, stopped his car, and like some kind of telepathic, animal whisperer, caught my wayward pony before he could trot away like he usually did when my dad went to fetch him from his frequent impromptu excursions.

On the day of the interview with Lepard, I met him at his house, and he showed me his patriotically dressed monkeys. They got in their little seats atop the dogs, and took off like John Wayne in his yard.

There was a male monkey and a female monkey that day, each with its own horse/dog, and I noticed  some fairly interesting social behavior.

Seated side-by-side before they went off a ‘ridin, the male monkey kept reaching over and placing his hand? paw? over the hand? paw? of the female monkey.

2I’m pretty sure he was also saying a few things to her in monkey language that were primate expletives, which indicated to me that he was likely a jerk. Every time, she tried to move her horse/dog, he screeched at her with hostility and grabbed her hand? paw? to make sure she knew she was not to ride off on her horse/dog before he did. He was in control of this situation.

I asked Tim what he was doing, and he said he was showing his dominance over her. He was the male.

So I guess the point is – even if Mr. Wise succeeds in having someone grant monkeys or other animals the same inalienable rights as humans, there is still a lot more evolving monkeys will have to do before their behavior is accepted by modern American society, and step one, is educating them about women’s rights.

Got a comment? E-mail me at or Tweet me at @lareecarucker.



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