Project Nim

Project Nim



“…And man will have dominion over all of the creatures that crawl on the land.”

Genesis 1:26


Humanity has certainly done a bang-up job of dominating animals. Just about every animal species on earth has either been tamed or eradicated.

And that’s basically a good thing.

When I see that stuffed Catamount in the Pavilion, I don’t think “awww, poor kitty.” I think about the gun-toting, tough-guy pioneers who killed it. Thanks to them, I can walk through the woods without any chance of being devoured by a murderous saber-tooth cat.

During the past fifty years, however, civilized man has abused its power over the Animal Kingdom. Instead of following God’s biblical admonition, we’ve begun acting like gods ourselves.

For thousands of years, humans and animals lived together for their mutual benefit on small family farms.

But on modern factory farms, the animals are nothing more than commodities. They are bred to be unnaturally meaty and fast-growing. They live their short, joyless lives in cramped, filthy conditions. And they are slaughtered by machines by the thousands. All so Americans can buy 99 cent chicken sandwiches that we would probably be better off without.

Our power has grown exponentially and our sense of decency has not. Man’s grotesque inhumanity is most vividly displayed when we use animals in frivolous science experiments. The sad documentary “Project Nim” explores how one fascinating but pointless science project made life miserable for an innocent beast.

It all began when some college professor asked the questions: can an animal learn human words? And can the animal use those words to express complex thoughts?

The frustrating thing is, we already know the answers: Yes, and No. There are plenty of parrots who say words, and yet none of them will ever write any decent poetry.

But common sense wasn’t enough to stop Columbia Professor William Lemmon from taking an infant chimpanzee away from his mother in 1973 and giving him to a New York household. They named him Nim Chimpsky, began teaching him sign language, and treated him like a member of the family.

“Project Nim” teaches us very little about animal behavior but it makes a powerful case against animal experimentation and exploitation.

Unsurprisingly, Nim Chimpsky was able to learn several words – like dog and cat. Unsurprisingly, he never learned to form complete sentences or to express sophisticated ideas.

And, inevitably, the naïve family’s attempt to raise Nim as a civilized human being failed….because he was a chimp.

After severely biting a young woman, Nim was taken away from his family. After mauling a second woman, Nim was brought to an isolated primate quarantine facility and permanently caged. Ultimately, the unfortunate animal was sold to a medical testing facility.

And all of these ghastly things happened just so some bored professor could prove that a monkey can be taught to use sign language to ask for a banana.