[monkeywire] Court to rule if chimp has human rights

Carrie McLaren temporary181 at stayfreemagazine.org
Sun Apr 1 10:35:01 EDT 2007

Court to rule if chimp has human rights

Kate Connolly in Berlin
Sunday April 1, 2007
The Observer

He recognises himself in the mirror, plays 
hide-and-seek and breaks into fits of giggles 
when tickled. He is also our closest evolutionary 

A group of world leading primatologists argue 
that this is proof enough that Hiasl, a 
26-year-old chimpanzee, deserves to be treated 
like a human. In a test case in Austria, 
campaigners are seeking to ditch the 'species 
barrier' and have taken Hiasl's case to court. If 
Hiasl is granted human status - and the rights 
that go with it - it will signal a victory for 
other primate species and unleash a wave of 
similar cases.

Hiasl's story began in 1982 when, as a baby, he 
was taken from Sierra Leone and smuggled into 
Austria in a crate with seven other chimps 
destined for a vivisection laboratory east of 
Vienna. But customs officers seized the crate and 
Hiasl was sent to an animal sanctuary. Now the 
sanctuary faces bankruptcy and Hiasl could be 
sent to the Baxter vivisection laboratory after 
all. Seeking to save Hiasl, who likes painting, 
kissing visitors and watching wildlife 
programmes, an Austrian businessman has donated 
£3,400 towards his upkeep.

However, unless Hiasl has a legal guardian who 
can manage the money it will go to the receivers. 
As only humans have a right to legal guardians, 
his campaigners say it is necessary for Hiasl's 
survival to prove that he is one of us. 
Primatologists and experts - from the world's 
most famous primate campaigner, Jane Goodall, to 
Professor Volker Sommer, a renowned wild chimp 
expert at University College London - will give 
evidence in the case, which is due to come to 
court in Vienna within the next few months.

One of their central arguments will be that a 
chimpanzee's DNA is 96-98.4 per cent similar to 
that of humans - closer than the relationship 
between donkeys and horses. They will cite recent 
findings that wild apes hunt with home-made 
spears and can fight battles and make peace. In 
New Zealand, apes - gorillas, orang utans, 
chimpanzees and bonobos - were granted special 
rights as 'non-human hominids' in 1999 to grant 
protection from maltreatment, slavery, torture, 
death and extinction.

Sommer, an evolutionary anthropologist, said: 
'It's untenable to talk of dividing humans and 
humanoid apes because there are no clear-cut 
criteria - neither biological, nor mental, nor 
social.' Paula Stibbe, a British woman, has 
applied to be named Hiasl's legal guardian. She 
said: 'He is a colourful character with lots of 
energy. The least we can do for him is give him 
... a future in society.' Barbara Bartl, the 
judge and an animal rights campaigner, has 
stalled proceedings until documents are provided 
proving Hiasl has, as his friends say, the status 
of an asylum-seeker, having been abducted 
illegally from Sierra Leone.

If Hiasl is granted human status, Martin Balluch, 
of the Association against Animal Factories, who 
has worked to bring the case, wants him to sue 
the vivisection laboratory. He said: 'We argue 
that he's a person and he's capable of owning 
something himself, as opposed to being owned, and 
that he can manage his money. This means he can 
start a court case against Baxter, which at the 
very least should mean his old age pension is 

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