I am reading an amazing book: "Apes, Language, & the Human Mind," by Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, et al. It is the story of Sues' work with a bonobo named Kanzi. Kanzi's mother was in a language study at a Language Research Center in Atlanta, and because of Kanzi's early exposure to humans and the English language, Kanzi has picked up an amazing ability to communicate. He has a grasp of complex grammatical structures that is superior to many 2-year-olds, and his abilities keep growing. He does not have the brain power of a human adult--for one, he doesn't have a strong short-term memory (at least linguistically). But he can communicate and interact with humans as well as a young child.
Kanzi is more able than most bonobos because of his early-childhood experiences. He was raised in a very rich environment where he was given a lot of language stimuli & great impetus to use it. Reading about his life, I can not help thinking of the chimpanzees at our zoo, who live in a concrete bunker and whose "enrichment activities" are mostly about finding food that's been strung from the ceilings or placed in a box. Of course, it's better than the old way of just locking the poor creatures in a spartan cage. But it's a far cry from the kind of place that could really stimulate them.
What if all the zoo monkeys got to live in a space like Kanzi's? What if, instead of being on display for our entertainment, the apes were allowed--in some safe, appropriate way--to interract with humans? What if they were given a chance to learn English? What could possibly be so wrong about allowing animals to be ambassadors and not statuary?