Jane Goodall moved to Africa shortly after the Flood, as everybody knows, to study wild chimpanzees, and thanks to her observations over many years we now know that chimpanzees have such human traits as the ability to acquire and use tools, and of course they can master a good many signs in communicating and they can and do occasionally murder each other.

In fact, she goes on, they are genetically 99 percent us. I could not understand this and tried to discuss it with Jane Goodall but got nowhere, not knowing enough to follow her. Even Ivory Soap is no closer to purity than chimpanzees are to humans, and they can get some human diseases that other animals cannot.

Which has led, much to Goodall's distress, to the wide use of chimps in research laboratories. The average human, busy with the chores of the day and not keen to open new cans of worms, likes to think those chimpanzees are serving science with the help of benign and wise master physicians and researchers, very like Billy Graham or those reassuring doctors in the TV ads that sell hemorrhoid pads and toothpaste.

"I doubt very much that chimpanzees are going to be any use at all in finding a cure for AIDS," she said, with that quiet temperate tone that has marked her pronouncements. "The chimpanzees get the virus, all right, but thus far none of them has gotten AIDS."

She suspects we shall simply endure AIDS until that retrovirus mutates to a less virulent and fatal form. Meanwhile, the many chimpanzees inoculated with the AIDS virus will be a reservoir of the disease. In them the virus may continue to mutate, she fears, and eventually become disastrous for them -- perhaps long after it becomes less horrible for humans.

If the chimpanzees were potatoes, Goodall would not mind so much. It would make no great difference if a lot of potatoes were used up, for no discernible results. But for Miss Goodall the use of chimpanzees in laboratories is not so far from using humans.

Once, as she slowly sipped a scotch, unwinding after a good many hours of meetings, she said chimpanzees in laboratories should be kept in pairs, for company, and should have at least 400 square feet of space. She had spoken of such things when she received the Albert Schweitzer Medal earlier on this visit to Washington. It is given no oftener than once a year by the Animal Welfare Institute (last year it was awarded to Sen. Robert Dole, R-Kan., for legislation on humane treatment of beasts).

"That's more space than criminals get in our prisons," I ventured.

"Yes. And the chimpanzees are not criminals," she said with a new sharpness in her voice. "They committed no offenses against us, and we are using them for our own purposes. There are real questions of ethics in using animals so closely related to us in laboratories, but forget that for a minute, and simply consider how they are treated as we use them in research."

She visited a laboratory last spring and observed the apes. She found them jammed two to a cage smaller than a two-foot cube. After a few months (during which they just sat there) they were to be infected with a virus and given separate cages. For the next several years they would stay in their cages -- there are laboratories where the cages are simply lined up -- and, Goodall said, "during that time they will become insane."

Apes are quite different from potatoes or from machines. Once I met an infant gorilla at an airport. While its owner filled out some forms, he dumped the little ape in my arms. He gazed up (the gorilla) and flung his arms around my neck, holding on for dear life. Later I observed him during the first year that he lived with a human family. It is impossible after that to think of any ape as just a dumb animal.

Americans in general are aware of puppies and infant cats, and most people who have lived intimately with them are fully persuaded those beasts have surprising intelligence. It is not possible for an intelligent human to regard even a cat as if it were no more than an animated toy. The authority and dignity of life shines perfectly clearly even in a rat. Let alone an ape.

Goodall would be satisfied, or at least somewhat appeased, if laboratories afforded their apes the chance to play, to sample a variety of foods, to go outdoors occasionally and get some sun -- she would be pleased if these animals were given at least a fraction of the environment for which they are designed, with recognition that they can feel despair. Even in a laboratory their lives could be made endurable with intervals of delight.

The stunning answer commonly given by laboratories is that the cages have to be easy to clean, and besides space is expensive, and there are labor costs in tending to apes humanely.

Indeed there are. If those costs are too great, then the answer is to stop using the animals. It is not a human answer to say that barbarism is the solution to laboratory costs.

Americans are clear on the matter if faced with it. The trick, in the laboratory business, is to see that Americans do not know what apes are like, in the first place, and how they are treated. Once people know, people do not tolerate it.

"Do chimpanzees have souls, do you think?" I had wondered how far Goodall carried her evaluation of the apes, and on what grounds she fought so hard for them.

"I am not an authority on the soul," she said, "but I personally cannot believe that when we die there is simply nothing." (She is an Anglican in religion). "And I believe that what we have the chimpanzees have."

The prospect of apes going to town on harps while their tormentors lie howling is not, I thought, altogether unattractive.