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Are the Great Apes Our Blood Brothers?

As judges in Austria face a decision over whether a chimpanzee named Hiasl deserves a legal guardian and should be granted human rights as an ape, Animal Defenders international (ADI) supports experts in the case who argue for him being given 'personhood'.

Jan Creamer, chief executive of ADI, commented: "The case which opened on the 20th February 2007 will have considerable implications if Hiasl is granted a legal guardian. It will be the first time the species barrier will have been crossed for legal 'personhood'. Hiasl's case shows that we as humans need to evaluate the relationship we have with the other primates and recognise that our exploitation and mistreatment of them cannot be justified."

ADI's 'My Mate's A Primate' report was the first campaign of its kind to highlight how close chimpanzees are to humans with personalities and the ability to express emotions such as happiness, compassion, sadness, affection and anger. Their intelligence is borne out by the fact that they have been taught to communicate in human sign language.

Expert statements from primatologists and professors of law in the case argue that chimps can biologically be considered as humans, that they fulfil the necessary conditions for personhood and therefore in the eyes of the law should be considered a person deserving a legal guardian to safeguard their interests.

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Now the sanctuary faces bankruptcy and Hiasl could be sent to the Baxter vivisection laboratory after all. Seeking to save Hiasl, who likes painting, ...

Court to rule if chimp has human rights

Kate Connolly
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 cousin.

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 secure.'  Arkangel for Animal Liberation - London, UK

He was taken from his home in the Sierra Leone jungle in West Africa, then crated and shipped to Austria, destined for a vivisection lab 30 km East of ... Austria A world first: Great Ape trial in Austria

Are the Great Apes our blood brothers?

In a groundbreaking case at the Mödling district court, just southwest of Vienna, Austria, a judge is to rule whether a chimp deserves a legal guardian. The chimpanzee in question is called Hiasl. But is he actually a chimp or a human, biologically speaking? This is one of the questions that will be addressed during the trial.

Hiasl was only a year old in 1982 when a poacher shot his mother and sold him to an animal trader. He was taken from his home in the Sierra Leone jungle in West Africa, then crated and shipped to Austria, destined for a vivisection lab 30 km East of Vienna. But by 1982, the CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) agreement already forbade the import of wild caught chimps, and so Hiasl and 7 other chimps were taken in by customs officers and handed over to an animal sanctuary.

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