Should Apes have some basic Human rights ?

By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News Magazine

Apes and humans have common ancestors but should they have the same rights? An international movement to give them “personhood” is gathering pace.

What would Aristotle make of it? More than 2,000 years after the Greek philosopher declared Mother Nature had made all animals for the sake of man, there are moves to put the relationship on a more equal footing.

Judges in Austria are considering whether a British woman, Paula Stibbe, should become legal guardian of a chimpanzee called Hiasl which was abducted from its family tribe in West Africa 25 years ago.

The animal sanctuary where he has lived is about to close and to stop him being sold to a zoo, Ms Stibbe hopes that she can persuade the court he deserves the same protection as a child.


Gorillas, bonobos, orang-utans and chimps are great apes

Chimpanzees and bonobos differ from humans by only 1% of DNA and could accept a blood transfusion or a kidney

All great apes recognise themselves in a mirror

Elephants and dolphins show similar self-awareness

Great apes can learn and use human languages through signs or symbols but lack the vocal anatomy to master speech

Great apes have displayed love, fear, anxiety and jealousy

In 1997 the UK government banned experiments on great apes but not on primates such as marmosets and macaques


Sources: Ian Redmond, Charlotte Uhlenbroek 

Chimps genetically close to humans

Spanish MPs are also being urged to back a similar principle, one already endorsed by the Balearic parliament and held dear by the international organisation The Great Ape Project – that apes be granted the right to life, freedom and protection from torture.

So should apes such as those at London Zoo, which opens its Gorilla Kingdom on Thursday complete with gym and climbing wall, get the same rights as their zookeepers?

They need greater protection in the eyes of the law, says Ian Redmond of the UN’s Great Apes Survival Project, who believes welfare groups could use guardianship as a way to rescue ill-treated apes.

Some rights are conferred on apes but only because they are endangered. And the international trade ban is flouted in Africa and South-East Asia, where mothers are shot and their infants shipped off as pets, circus performers or lab animals. Vivisection on apes is banned in much of Europe but still goes on in the US and Japan.

“Apes are special because they are so closely related to us,” says Mr Redmond. “Chimpanzees and bonobos are our joint closest living relatives, differing by only one per cent of DNA – so close we could accept a blood transfusion or a kidney. Gorillas are next, then orang-utans.”

But there is a stronger cognitive argument, he says, because the apes’ intelligence and ability to reason demands our respect.


“If you take a chimp away from its family groups it’s a real wrench ”
Charlotte Uhlenbroek

watch– Hiasl the chimp

“Show a gibbon a mirror and the reaction suggests he or she thinks the reflection is another gibbon. But all the great apes have passed the ‘mirror self-recognition’ test and soon begin checking their teeth or examining parts of their body they couldn’t see without the mirror. This self-awareness surely suggests that they know they exist.”


Family ties

Apes also share a range of human emotions, says zoologist Charlotte Uhlenbroek, who thinks they should be afforded legal protection enshrined in law.

They have a similar lifespan to humans and form strong family bonds which they maintain for life, she says. And apes have displayed a tenderness which could be described as love, anxiety when separated, and fear, jealousy and trauma.

The great apes: Status check
In pictures

“If I was an alien from Mars and looked at human society and a society of apes then in terms of the emotional life I would see no distinct difference, although we live very different lives because of language and technology.”

Giving them rights does not mean throwing open all the cage doors because some zoos are important to preserve the species, but it is vital to establish a principle that apes should not be treated like objects, she says.

Daniel Sokol, a medical ethicist, says apes possess cognitive and emotional faculties that make them worthy of moral consideration.

“Justice and consistent thinking require that we treat non-human animals who share morally-relevant properties in a respectful way, and that surely means giving them the opportunity to flourish and not be tortured or subject to cruel or degrading treatment.”

Orang-utans can kiss and cuddle

Look into the Apes eyes again at the top of the post and tell me we are not related.  “You can’t”


12 responses to ““Personhood”

  1. This is really fascinating and something I knew nothing about. Thank you for giving me something to consider!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We should also stop trying to humanise other creatures too. Look at the behaviour problems that occur in dogs and cats when misguided humans try to turn them into little humans. Dogs should be treated as dogs, Apes as Apes. Humans as humans.


  3. Equal rights for all not just the privileged few that happen to remind some humans of themselves! No living creature should be subject to degradation and torture especially the non human ones whom we have a duty to care for and respect. Apes and such like should not be a special case as their dignity, wellbeing and right to respect is no more and no less than anyone/anything else.


    • I take your point Timid One. But there is a massive genetic difference between a Great Ape and a Dog.
      Apes are indeed a special case, they are under threat of extinction and should be afforded all the protection humanly possible. Being our closest “relative” among the animal kingdom I feel they should be treated with the same respect that we show to our fellow Humans. Yes we should respect ALL life on Earth, but the Great Apes are special and qualify for some special treatment. I.M.O.


  4. Hello you big ape (!!) and Happy New Year! This is THE question, a question we need to be asking about all kinds of animals, and the fact that you bring it up in the new year gives me great heart. Let’s keep asking this question until the answer comports with our humanity.


    • Hello Monica and a Happy New Year to you, hoping it shall prove to be a wonderful year for you and yours.
      LOL. Big ape indeed, well you can always share my banana if you wish :))
      Take care my lovely faraway friend.


      • I agree Timid One. But we are not treating our ancestors with “enough” respect. when i look into a dogs eyes , i see a dogs brain behind them. When i look into a cats eyes , i see a cats brain behind them. When i look into a Apes eyes , i see a human brain behind them (it’s a strange feeling). The Great Apes are crying freedom. To kidnap and tether a chimp to a tree for it’s entire life is inhuman.


  5. If what all you have stated is fact Kenny, then surely Primates should be given a near human status, even if only 50% true, than i’d still say the creature should be given treated with compassion due to a human ,


  6. Lovely post for the new Year Kenny..
    Happy New Year to you my friend.. wishing you Health and Happiness.. and Blessings in abundance..
    Hugs Sue x


    • and a happy new year to you Sue and a healthy one i hope. I feel quite strongly about the subject matter of this post, like that disgusting form of entertainment, the dancing Bear, it turns my stomach and i feel a great hatred for the humans involved.
      take care dear friend x

      Liked by 1 person

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