There is a groundbreaking legal case happening in Austria right now, in which a judge is being asked to rule on the “humanness” of a chimp—specifically, over whether he deserves a legal guardian.
The animal in question is called Hiasl (pronounced Hazel). He was born in the Sierra Leone jungle in 1981, captured by animal traders, and illegally shipped to Austria, destined for a vivisection lab. Luckily, customs officials intercepted the crate and Hiasl was placed in an animal sanctuary. Now, 20-something years later, the sanctuary has gone belly up and Hiasl is slated to be sent to a zoo. There are European activists and lawyers trying to keep him out of the zoo, so the trial is on.
Obviously, there has been a whole lot of back-and-forth over this case in Europe, and you can google it if you want the full deal, but suffice to say that primatologists and legal experts have spoken up in support of Hiasl’s having legal human status, which is amazing. Even more amazing is that Volker Sommer, a primatologist at London University, says chimps are not just one of the homo genus—he believes they should be considered as the same species as contemporary humans. In the end, however, a judge will decide. . . . This story is so powerful, and the fact that it’s even in court shows both how far the animal rights movement has come, and how far we have to go.
I just heard about it the other day, but my boss, PETA Prez Ingrid Newkirk, has been following the case closely for a while now, and weighing in where she can. There was a story in The New Scientist the other day, and some of the online comments—many from vivisectors—were absolutely appalling. But, as usual, Ingrid’s response to them was just perfect:
“The level of knowledge about this case as expressed on various blogs is bleak and seems to show that what humans have in common with chimpanzees is that they have learned to throw their faeces (we do it via the Internet) when threatened. There is no need to be threatened by a kind person’s attempt to protect an ape from having his head opened up and electrodes put in it, and from spending his life banging his body against a steel cage. This reminds me of how insecure men reacted to the idea in the ’60s that women might be entitled to the same wage as they were and perhaps shouldn’t always be the ones bringing the coffee to everyone’s desks. If you see the movie Amazing Grace (or read about the Abolitionist movement), the human slavers and those who benefited from slavery – and the ignorant defenders of the status quo, used variations on the same theme to defend themselves from the “threat” of any rights for African humans. Same song, different year. What we need is less defensiveness and more compassion in the world. As for the chest-beaters, another thing they have in common with chimpanzees, if only they could see beyond themselves and lament that their empathy gene is obviously deficient.”
True dat, Ingrid. I’ll keep everyone posted as the case progresses.