From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]


Activists want chimp declared a ‘person’

By WILLIAM J. KOLE  /  Fri May 4

VIENNA, Austria – In some ways, Hiasl is like any other Viennese: He
indulges a weakness for pastry, likes to paint and enjoys chilling out
watching TV. But he doesn’t care for coffee, and he isn’t actually a
person – at least not yet.

In a case that could set a global legal precedent for granting basic
rights to apes, animal rights advocates are seeking to get the 26-year-
old male chimpanzee legally declared a “person.”

Hiasl’s supporters argue he needs that status to become a legal entity
that can receive donations and get a guardian to look out for his

“Our main argument is that Hiasl is a person and has basic legal
rights,” said Eberhart Theuer, a lawyer leading the challenge on
behalf of the Association Against Animal Factories, a Vienna animal
rights group.

“We mean the right to life, the right to not be tortured, the right to
freedom under certain conditions,” Theuer said.

“We’re not talking about the right to vote here.”

The campaign began after the animal sanctuary where Hiasl (pronounced
HEE-zul) and another chimp, Rosi, have lived for 25 years went

Activists want to ensure the apes don’t wind up homeless if the
shelter closes. Both have already suffered: They were captured as
babies in Sierra Leone in 1982 and smuggled in a crate to Austria for
use in pharmaceutical experiments. Customs officers intercepted the
shipment and turned the chimps over to the shelter.

Their food and veterinary bills run about $6,800 a month. Donors have
offered to help, but there’s a catch: Under Austrian law, only a
person can receive personal donations.

Organizers could set up a foundation to collect cash for Hiasl, whose
life expectancy in captivity is about 60 years. But without basic
rights, they contend, he could be sold to someone outside Austria,
where the chimp is protected by strict animal cruelty laws.

“If we can get Hiasl declared a person, he would have the right to own
property. Then, if people wanted to donate something to him, he’d have
the right to receive it,” said Theuer, who has vowed to take the case
to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary.

Austria isn’t the only country where primate rights are being debated.
Spain’s parliament is considering a bill that would endorse the Great
Ape Project, a Seattle-based international initiative to extend
“fundamental moral and legal protections” to apes.

If Hiasl gets a guardian, “it will be the first time the species
barrier will have been crossed for legal ‘personhood,'” said Jan
Creamer, chief executive of Animal Defenders International, which is
working to end the use of primates in research.

Paula Stibbe, a Briton who teaches English in Vienna, petitioned a
district court to be Hiasl’s legal trustee. On April 24, Judge Barbara
Bart rejected her request, ruling Hiasl didn’t meet two key tests: He
is neither mentally impaired nor in an emergency.

Although Bart expressed concern that awarding Hiasl a guardian could
create the impression that animals enjoy the same legal status as
humans, she didn’t rule that he could never be considered a person.

Martin Balluch, who heads the Association Against Animal Factories,
has asked a federal court for a ruling on the guardianship issue.

“Chimps share 99.4 percent of their DNA with humans,” he said. “OK,
they’re not homo sapiens. But they’re obviously also not things – the
only other option the law provides.”

Not all Austrian animal rights activists back the legal challenge.
Michael Antolini, president of the local Society for the Prevention of
Cruelty to Animals, said he thinks it’s absurd.

“I’m not about to make myself look like a fool” by getting involved,
said Antolini, who worries that chimpanzees could gain broader rights,
such as copyright protections on their photographs.

But Stibbe, who brings Hiasl sweets and yogurt and watches him draw
and clown around by dressing up in knee-high rubber boots, insists he
deserves more legal rights “than bricks or apples or potatoes.”

“He can be very playful but also thoughtful,” she said. “Being with
him is like playing with someone who can’t talk.”

A date for the appeal hasn’t been set, but Hiasl’s legal team has
lined up expert witnesses, including Jane Goodall, the world’s
foremost observer of chimpanzee behavior.

“When you see Hiasl, he really comes across as a person,” Theuer said.

“He has a real personality. It strikes you immediately: This is an
individual. You just have to look him in the eye to see that.”

thanks go to [ sirius ]