Is a chimp a person? Court to decide

Chimps are intelligent creatures. They pass the mirror test and so possess self-consciousness. I would argue there is a significant difference in moral status between animals with self-consciousness, and animals without. This does not mean that we can do whatever we want to those without, but the interests of those animals with self-consciousness are more weighty.

Court to rule if chimp has human rights 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 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.

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