Note to readers: It takes time and thought to accomplish the research, translation, and the analyses that GRASP provides. So feel free to make use of the commentaries on our site, but kindly cite the headline and site, Great Ape Standing & Personhood <www.personhood.org>, as you would with any article. Thank you for visiting.
As reported by Richard A. Marini for My San Antonio, Government group calls for retiring research chimps (23 Jan. 2013): Most chimpanzees used in scientific research paid for by the federal government will be "retired" if the recommendations of an independent advisory group are adopted.
But Stephen Rene Tello, executive director of Primarily Primates, is unhappy that federal law requires the chimps to be sent to a federal "sanctuary" where they'll still be owned by the government.
“What happens if someone decides they suddenly need chimpanzees for research again?” Tello said. “They'll send them right back to the labs.”
That's the bottom line. If the National Institutes of Health were honestly releasing these apes with no strings attached, they'd transfer the titles—and send them to true refuges which won't use them in any kind of studies or put them on display.
The Life and Times of Oliver, a Chimpanzee
By Lee Hall
Young Oliver sometimes moved fully upright, instead of hunching forward on shoulders and arms as most chimpanzees do. Yet like many others in the 1960s, Oliver was stolen as a youngster from a family of chimpanzees, and would never again go home.
It was that one quirk that set the peculiar fate that would befall Oliver. It was that walk that caught the eyes of entertainers who saw the opportunity to market the hapless soul as The Missing Link between humans and rest of the animal world. So Oliver became an international spectacle: the Humanzee. A string of promoters, including New York lawyer Michael Miller, promoted Oliver as a possible chimpanzee-human hybrid. Seen on The Ed Sullivan Show and Japan's Nippon television, Oliver was touted as a sherry-sipping, stogie-puffing, coffee-loving, jet-setting star who was sexually attracted to humans. Few ever mentioned that Oliver once lived free in the Congo. Or that the promoters tethered and led Oliver by a chain.
After the entertainment world lost interest, Oliver was sold, one last time, to the research-broker Buckshire Corporation of Pennsylvania. Not much is said about this period in Oliver’s life. But researchers seemed hesitant to handle Oliver, Tello thinks. “He had very humanlike traits.”
In 1998, after suffering several strokes, muscles atrophied from many long years in a lab cage, and failing eyesight, Oliver was released to Primarily Primates. Toothless and arthritic, Oliver still managed to leave the lab cage in legendary fashion, says Tello—by walking upright. “I still remember the day,” Tello says, and the lab cage “that was so small any human would have gone insane living in it.”
“I remember how thrilling it was to release him from that awful fate.”
Oliver would become the subject of a Discovery Channel documentary in 2006, and reportedly inspired the erect-standing Planet of the Apes character Caesar. “His head is smaller and less hairy than that of a typical chimp,” wrote Jordan Smith in the Austin Chronicle, “his nose smaller and more defined, his ears more pointed.”
Laid to Rest
With the careful help of veterinarian Valerie Kirk and Primarily Primates’ director Stephen Tello, Oliver met Raisin. Filmmaker Andy Cockrum hand-made two hammocks for the pair, and installed one of them near the ground, to allow Oliver to find it. Sarah, long owned by a language-research lab, also got to share a space with Oliver; and, sensing the older ape’s sight was impaired, brought grapes over to Oliver, who accepted them and ate them. Oliver was a gentle soul who brought out the kindness in other chimpanzees.
“He loved coconut sorbet — that got the biggest hoots and hollers,” remembers Shelly Ladd, who heads primate enrichment projects at the refuge.
“But if he didn't like something, he'd hand the bowl back to you—like the time he tried sugar-free pistachio pudding.”
It was early June 2012 when Oliver was found resting motionless in Andy’s handmade hammock. Raisin shared Oliver’s final moments.
With Oliver’s death came a resurgence of interest in this chimpanzee’s biological personality. But P rimarily Primates has always denied media outlets' and primate experts' requests to film or take samples from Oliver, and that wasn’t about to change now. The ape’s remains were similarly kept off-limit to scientific tourists.
The Scientific Circus
Exhibits of “other” humans have been frequent in the history of Western societies. Up to the mid-twentieth century, at circuses, zoos, and world fairs, “natives” and “wild” people performed displayed their otherness for European and European-American spectators. And scientific showpeople would often dissect and embalm remains of the bodies, particularly the skulls and sexual organs.
Saartje (Sara) Baartman (1789-1815), whose body attracted crowds in both England and France for five years, had been a slave in the Eastern Cape of present-day South Africa. Baartman’s owner died in or about 1810, whereupon the 21-year old African was taken to Europe by the late owner’s brother. Baartman appeared (clothed in a skin-tight, flesh-tinted bodysuit so as to appear naked) as the Hottentot Venus, despite abolitionists ’ efforts to stop the public show of being led around stages, standing or walking as ordered, and prodded by spectators.
The spectacles continued even after Baartman's early death. Baron Georges Cuvier, the most eminent zoologist of the day, compared Africans to nonhuman primates to explain their supposed racial inferiority. Cuvier’s dissection report of Baartman’s body (1817) contained references to natural history and monkeys. Baartman's body continued to be exhibited in a plaster cast at La Musée de l'Homme in Paris— the institution to which Curvier belonged—until 1982.
Echoes of the prurient and arrogant curiosity that ravaged Baartman’s life would haunt Oliver’s. In November 2008, a third-year medical student wrote to Primarily Primates, announcing:
I have had an interest in Oliver for quite some time. I was trying to figure out if Oliver was determined to be a Bonobo (Pan paniscus) chimpanzee or a common chimpanzee with some unusual genetic abnormalities. Many Bonobo chimps walk upright for long distances like Oliver and have different physical characteristics to most common chimpanzees. It has also been determined that Bonobo chimpanzees have a higher level of intelligence and are able to understand and interact with humans in more conventional written symbol language than has been accomplished with common chimpanzees. It has also been interesting to me that the Bonobo chimpanzees have very similar body proportions to Australopithecus.
The student asked for molecular study results of Oliver's genome.
In the first week of June 2012, just two days after Oliver’s death, Primarily Primates received a message from the former medical student, who was now the founder of a Texas-based cell technology firm. “I am still interested in doing some genetic research on Oliver and was wondering if I can purchase his remains.”
Explaining that Oliver was never subjected to commercial exploitation or scientific probing after arriving at the sanctuary, and that death wouldn’t change that, Primarily Primates president Priscilla Feral answered: “Not a chance.”
It was only a few hours after Oliver’s passing when Primarily Primates received an e-mail from Western Australia. “I read that my much-admired Oliver has died,” wrote the author. “I am a human biologist and have been following Oliver since 1982 when I first read about him.”
The biologist then asked who had authority “to check out how Oliver's epigenetic regions and switches differ from other chimps when it comes to the locomotion genes in him and the normal knucklewalking others.” The message continued:
I am still sure the best clue to our own bipedality will come from this examination. I have written many times over the years to Professor Colin Groves at the Australian National University in Canberra, and others, asking them to follow Oliver's progress also.
The message did end with a kind sentiment: “And I so applaud the great efforts you continue to make. I am with you in spirit as you grieve for Oliver.”
Primarily Primates sent a thank-you note and moved on.
On the 7 th day on June 2012, Stephen Rene Tello wrote:
Today we cremated and scattered Oliver's ashes. It was a quiet, private ceremony. All the care staff and close friends of Oliver were present to help me spread his ashes around the sanctuary. Oliver is home now, forever free. For the last part of his life, he got to live in a safe haven: a non-exploitive, non-commercial world where he was surrounded by people who love him and in companionship with others of his kind.
Friends of Animals merged with Primarily Primates in 2007. To learn more about everyone at Primarily Primates, see: www.primarilyprimates.org. Primarily Primates videos are also available on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/FriendsofAnimals
 “Famous Long Ago” (15 Dec. 2006).
 Z. S. Strother, “Display of the Body Hottentot” in Bernth Lindfors, ed., Africans on Stage: Studies in Ethnological Show Business, Indiana University Press (1998).
The rights of dolphins, chimps, and other nonhuman persons
Lee Hall of Friends of Animals / GRASP responds: Of course they should get it. Not because they `deserve legal standing more than other animals` but because it’s the right thing to support the work to free any animals who can be liberated from the chains of human dominion.
By John Rennie | March 20, 2012
Over the weekend, I borrowed a friend’s time machine and cold-bloodedly killed a Neandertal, a Homo erectus, an Australopithecus, a dolphin, a chimp, eight sentient robots, the first extraterrestrial visitor to Earth, and my neighbor with the unreasonably loud sound system. Question: in the eyes of the law, how many murders did I just commit?
Probably two is my guess, with an outside possibility of three. I might be able to spin a justifiable homicide defense around “too much Ke$ha” with respect to my noisy neighbor, but the charge would still be murder. Just 10 years ago I might have been able to argue that Homo neanderthalensis was a different species and that killing one was therefore not the same as killing a person. Recent genomic studies, though, have shown that modern humans and Neandertals interbred so heavily that it’s now doubtful whether they were separate species, which isn’t good for my case. That hairy little Homo erectus was clearly not one of our species, but his kind still looked and acted human enough that I wouldn’t want to take my chances with a sentimental jury. So I might hang for those three killings.
On all the others, though — the dolphin, the chimp, the australopithecine, the alien, and the robots — I ought to be able to walk away from everything except some charges on cruelty to animals and vandalism. No matter how smart, self-aware, empathetic, or ethical they might be, those creatures and things don’t qualify as persons under the law because they are not human beings. Doing awful things to them might make me a monster, but it doesn’t technically make me a murderer. (And even as a human monster and murderer, I have rights that they do not.)
Science fiction scenarios aside, some scientists, philosophers, legal scholars and others are beginning to wonder whether the laws need to change for the benefit of dolphins, chimpanzees, and other highly intelligent animals. Should the law recognize a category of nonhuman persons with rights comparable to (but not necessarily identical to) those of human beings? If so, what would be the consequences and implications, not just for these animals but maybe also for humans?
Persons with blowholes
The eligibility of cetaceans (dolphins, porpoises, and whales) for legal recognition as nonhuman beings was the focus of a much discussed session last month at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Vancouver. Lori Marino, a behavioral biologist and neuroscientist at Emory University, kicked off the discussion with a review of the abundant evidence for the creatures’ highly developed cognitive abilities.
It’s no secret that dolphins are exceptionally good at solving problems, for example, even ones that involve some level of abstract thinking. They can recognize themselves in mirrors, which seemingly demonstrates a capacity for self-awareness. Cetaceans also communicate amongst themselves with sophisticated vocal utterances that are at least reminiscent of language (though some linguists debate the appropriateness of that label). Recent findings even suggest that dolphins may greet one another with sets of sounds that seem to act as individuals’ names.
Cetaceans also live in groups with complex social dynamics, and at least some of those groups seem to have local “cultures” of behaviors that each generation teaches the next. For instance, some dolphins teach their young how to use sponges as tools while foraging along the seafloor.
Yet notwithstanding cetaceans’ intellectual capabilities, throughout history and around the world, humans have used and abused these animals as a resource. The slaughter of whales for food and oils and of dolphins as bycatch in fishing nets is notorious, Marino said, but the seemingly more benign practice of keeping cetaceans at marine parks for entertainment is also bad: she pointed to research showing that such captivity was harmful to the animals.
Thomas I. White, professor of ethics at Loyola Marymount University who also spoke on the AAAS panel, has argued that living things that demonstrate self-awareness, intelligence and autonomy, experience emotions and treat other individuals with empathic respect deserve to have moral standing as persons. Cetaceans meet all those criteria, in his view.
On those grounds, White, Marino, and others met in Helsinki in May 2010 to draft a Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans that affirms their status as persons. Among the 10 provisions in the declaration are calls that “Every individual cetacean has the right to life,” that no cetacean should be held captive or removed from its natural home, and that “Cetaceans have the right to the protection of their environment.” The signers hope that over time enough countries will endorse the document’s principles for it to acquire some international force.
Too human for comfort
Chimpanzees and the other great apes, of course, also stand out as candidates for nonhuman person status because of their high intelligence, their tool use, and their apparent self-awareness. Their evolutionary proximity to human beings also makes it easy to believe that if any nonhuman animals possess some elusive property of “being” that could justify their personhood, the apes do. Indeed, a research paper appearing last October in Current Biology by Michael Krützen of the University of Zurich and his colleagues claimed that manifestations of culture in orangutans, the other great apes, and humans share evolutionary roots.
No one seems to have yet drafted a “Declaration of Rights for Apes” comparable to the Helsinki Group’s cetacean document, but The Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act (H.R. 1513/S.810) now pending in the U.S. Congress would end the use of chimpanzees in invasive biomedical research. (The U.S. and Gabon are the only countries in the world that still use chimpanzees for such studies.) [Added: But see also the update at the bottom of this page.]
Adding some momentum to that push, the Institute of Medicine released a report in December that concluded, “most current biomedical research use of chimpanzees is not necessary,” though it fell short of endorsing a full ban. Meanwhile, some scientists are arguing that chimps should not be kept as pets (because they are dangerous) or used unnaturally in commercials or other media (because the practice lulls people into thinking chimps are not endangered).
Nonhumans don’t get to vote
To many people familiar with the scientific evidence for sentience in animals, recognition of dolphins and chimps as nonhuman persons with certain inalienable rights might seem irresistibly logical. It would also seem to afford the creatures more complete and unassailable protection than other piecemeal conservation measures. After all, if corporations can be nonhuman persons, as the Supreme Court ruled in 2010 in the controversial Citizens United case, why not dolphins?
The idea is more complicated than it might first appear, however, and not all resistance to it is born of unwillingness to accept these creatures as our peers in some way.
For openers, considerable misunderstanding surrounds what granting rights as persons to nonhumans would mean. Some critics have dismissed the idea as absurd because the animals would not be accepting any responsibilities or obligations incumbent on them in return. But nonhuman persons would not be equivalent to humans, Thomas White says: their rights would specifically allow them to live as they historically have, without human interference. As such, their rights would only be obligations on human governments, not on the creatures themselves. (Eric Michael Johnson, author of the excellent book The Primate Diaries, has an outstanding discussion of this point and the sometimes elastic status of personhood on his blog.)
Legal theory can therefore probably support nonhuman persons fine. Yet there may be a Catch-22 problem with putting the idea into practice. The major practical motivation for declaring cetaceans and apes to be persons is to protect them more sweepingly from us. If governments wanted to do more to protect these creatures, however, they wouldn’t be waiting for a declaration of rights or personhood to prompt them. True, if the rest of the world recognized whales as persons, the last few whaling nations might feel shamed into stopping. But they might instead stand pat against the idea as radical and coercive, and use that excuse to justify ignoring more moderate protective measures. The drive for personhood would then be counterproductive.
The other practical problem could be in determining eligibility for personhood. Qualities like intelligence and empathy can be hard to evaluate in creatures very different from humans. Skeptics often point out that the animals being nominated for personhood sometimes engage in behaviors that can only be called beastly: gangs of male dolphins have been observed to rape unreceptive females; dolphins will also sometimes kill porpoises; chimps are not above infanticide and cannibalism. (Let us not forget that humans commit all these crimes as well; the question is whether they are norms of behavior or aberrations.)
Holding animals to strictly human standards of morality is unreasonable. But if we’re hoping to recognize nonhuman persons in part from their capacities for empathy and ethics, we will need to find a way to evaluate those qualities that doesn’t just reshape itself to give whatever answer we want.
A puzzle that won’t go away
The fact that working out good criteria for nonhuman persons may be difficult is no excuse for failing to do it, however. My suspicion — and it is no more than that — is that even if the Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans runs out of steam, the questions of whether and how to recognize persons who aren’t Homo sapiens are going to keep coming up. Maybe we’ll face the problem someday with digital intelligences; maybe creations from biotech labs will pose it instead; maybe someone from the stars will compel us to return to it. The sheer number of ways it can pop up makes me think it’s inevitable.
My further hunch is that, notwithstanding the problems, cetaceans and at least some of the great apes will eventually be recognized as persons. In fact, this categorization will someday probably be regarded as so self-evident that future generations will look back on our ignorance of it with the incredulity that we have for societies that kept slaves.
Update (3/20): Andrew Westoll, a former primatologist and author of The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary, reminds me that the philosopher Peter Singer and other members of the Great Ape Project have in fact issued a World Declaration on Great Primates that, like the declaration for cetaceans, calls for the extension of rights to life, individual freedom, and protection from torture to the apes. One difference, though, is that the primates declaration doesn’t explicitly call for them to be regarded as persons.
I’m also moved to add this: Whenever we do start to become comfortable with recognizing nonhuman persons … wait for the fireworks to start. Politicized issues relating to pregnancy and end of life are complicated and cantankerous already. If society starts recognizing new categories of persons, then expect that concept to be brought into those conversations, too — however inappropriately . At that point, we can only be glad the dolphins and the chimps will have the good sense to stay out of the argument.
Image: Dolphin. (Credit: Just Taken Pics, via Flickr)
Update from Lee Hall (August 2010):
Apologies to the folks who came here looking for updates and missed them for a while. Been writing a new book (now published!) called On Their Own Terms: Bringing Animal-Rights Philosophy Down to Earth. People have asked if GRASP has been abandoned. No way! It’s just that, well, have you seen the state of animal-rights philosophy these days? You can’t bring it down to Earth overnight. So thanks for your patience.
And yes… the new book does talk about apes and other primates. Here’s an overview of the book's questions and challenges pertaining to non-human primates. Write to me at probonobo [AT] sprynet.com if you’d like to add a question or comment here; expect this home page to be a work in progress.
First, an update on Primarily Primates. All is well there and they’ve just taken in 25 Java macaques. I’m a sponsor of a macaque called Lee, who was placed with Jupiter and Bruce. A bewildered little person named Gabriel is now there for a foursome. Would you believe they called this monkey “Monster” in the lab? What’s monstrous is the restraining collar worn by each when they were “models” for toxic reactions. Seems the lab couldn’t be bothered to take them off.
Why do I support Primarily Primates? Because it’s a responsible refuge. That means it:
- Subscribes to a no-kill view, and supports viable or potentially viable no-kill shelters and sanctuaries. We all know that the difficulty lies in balancing intake and individual animals’ well-being; if we come together to support the no-kill sanctuary movement, this societal responsibility can be shouldered.
- Understands that rescue is a bandage; no rescue site is heaven, and we shouldn’t claim to be. We should, however, offer residents excellent physical care, comfortable housing, respect, and a positive, challenging environment.
- Questions taming and captivity of non-human animals.
- Declines to become an apologist for supposedly benign, non-invasive or improved studies. Except in genuine sheltering situations, all confinement is invasive and should be avoided as far as possible.
Do we advocate primates’ rights because they are “like us”?
Today, many communities of non-human primates are susceptible to being wiped out except insofar as their members can become a useful underclass in our society. We are fascinated by what they might be able to tell us about ourselves.
So we subject them to an endless stream of experiments involving human activities, such as counting money, operating keyboards or playing musical instruments, weaving, drawing, and using human sign language. We have followed them in their forests, provoked aggression among them so we can watch the action on television, sent them into space in our capsules, raised them in human homes then stuck them back in labs.
An article in Science Daily, under the bubbly headline “Nurtured Chimps Rake It In,” called the Chimpanzee Cognition Center at the Ohio State University “the first to demonstrate that raising chimpanzees in a human cultural environment enhances their cognitive abilities.” Three cheers for human culture? As noted in my recent book, a philosophy professor called the Ohio State University room where the chimpanzees were studied their “comfortable home.” Well, no matter how well-meaning some of the OSU folks might be, a lab is no place like home. Home, for a non-human ape, will never be found in Ohio. The photo here, taken by Janis Carter, shows a chimpanzee near the Gambia River -- hanging on to relative freedom thanks to Friends of Animals’ Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Project.
Will Spain Be Our Watershed?
As you know if you’ve visited this site before, Spain’s governing Socialist Party has been considering the end of experimental or entertainment uses of non-human apes. “Spanish Parliament to Extend Rights to Apes” was the headline of an article distributed by Reuters on 25 June, 2008. And why not? We humans should remember we are also primates, be fair about that, and not begrudge primates their legal rights if they’re within reach.
But the best advance would be a robust movement to primates in their habitat, where all should have the simple right to live as they will.
Should we reject palm oil because it displaces orang-utans? Of course. Respecting the lives of orang-utans would necessarily mean respecting not only the great apes, but other primates in their areas (nearly half of all communities of the world’s primates live at risk of extinction due to our hunting and clear-cutting) and tree frogs too.
A less comprehensive beginning, but still helpful, would be exempting non-human primates from the animal-husbandry rules regulating labs. In New Zealand and in Spain, people have worked on rules to forbid experiments on non-human great apes. Yet in Spain and generally, advocates measure non-human interests in terms of sentience, and pay scant attention to freedom, autonomy, and community. So, while keeping apes for circuses and television spots will be forbidden under Spain’s penal code, keeping some 315 non-human apes in Spanish zoos will reportedly continue. That’s disturbing. Zoos can’t be a component of “animal rights”; apes who are already captive and dependent should be given refuge at a sanctuary prepared to meet their needs and advocate for their rights. In Spain, two sites have been called sanctuaries, but they allow public viewing and carry out cognitive research on the non-human apes.
Spain’s rights proposals have been followed by reporters the world over. But only the U.S. continues the large-scale use of non-human apes. The country that warehouses hundreds of apes for use in biomedical and cognitive experiments is in no hurry to extend justice to them. The Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance and Protection (“CHIMP”) Act, signed by President Clinton in 2000, removes “surplus chimpanzees” from U.S. labs -- thereby saving money for the government’s whole research enterprise. Chimp Haven of Louisiana, and any private entity which might, in the future, be awarded a contract under the Act, shells out at least $1 for each $3 of federal funds needed to run the housing system.
The so-called retired apes can be used again for “non-invasive behavioral studies”; but isn’t it invasive to keep a group of apes’ bodies, daily experiences, and relationships completely controlled by human keepers?
What We Can Do Now
Courts should be pressed to consider non-human primates as genuine rights-holders. U.S. lawmakers and advocates aren’t doing that. They are now considering the Great Ape Protection Act, which cites the apes’ intelligence and susceptibility to psychological trauma and proposes to end research that might cause injury, distress or fear -- but not “close observation of natural or voluntary behavior.” This suggests that displaying apes or subjecting them to cognitive experiments, which researchers go to some lengths to portray as voluntary, will be condoned.
For the objects of exhibitions and observational studies, space and time is never really their own. Even the bonobo Kanzi, who gained celebrity status for learning to express thoughts in human language through a keyboard, might be let out of the laboratory only to wind up on a leash. For too long, animals have been plucked out of their own spaces and stuck in human settings.
And now, humans are imposing ourselves on the habitat itself. In Uganda, together with the Walt Disney Company and the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Goodall Institute markets forest-dwelling apes by “habituating” them -- training them to accept tourists. Why doesn’t the privacy of non-human primate communities receive genuine respect?
These are issues we need to address immediately. This website is meant as a catalyst so this will occur.
Archived: News and Views
27 Aug. 2008 -- Rights for Other Apes, They Insist. Are They Serious?
Now this is real news: A group of influential Homo sapiens has resolved to grant rights to other apes. Spain's environmental ministers accepted a declaration from scientists and philosophers; the parliament is now expected to fill in a nonbinding resolution with laws forbidding the use of nonhuman great apes in harmful experiments, or on stage.
Amnesty International has expressed its alarm: What about the rights of the world's many detained and degraded human beings?
And yet, is there any reason why basic rights to life and liberty should only be discussed with reference to humanity? Can't we humans act decently - to human beings and others? Surely, respect should be nurtured in all its forms.
...And taking the rights of apes seriously would be a boon to entire forest biocommunities that need us to stop breeding cattle and logging ancient forests and extracting everything we can get our drills into. The best possible outcome from the Spanish resolution would be the start of a robust movement to defend the planet's untamed places. That would help apes and tree frogs alike, and they all should have the simple right to live as they will.
Click here to read Lee Hall, Rights for Other Apes, They Insist. Are They Serious? at DissidentVoice.org.
June 2008 Update: Spain’s Latest Ape Decision Welcomed – With Caution
Spain's parliament has voiced support for the rights of great apes to life and freedom.
The proposal’s points were approved either by a majority or unanimously by the Spanish parliament after its environmental committee urged compliance with a declaration devised by scientists and philosophers who, as the Reuters news service reported, “say our closest genetic relatives deserve rights hitherto limited to humans.”
Pedro Pozas, Spanish director of the Great Ape Project, welcomed the “historic day in the struggle for animal rights and in defense of our evolutionary comrades,” suggesting again that the argument rests on how similar the DNA of chimpanzees and other great apes is to our own.
The Great Ape Standing and Personhood (GRASP) project does not tie our argument on DNA similarities (which have dubious moral value); nevertheless, we do welcome rights for conscious beings wherever in the world they might come.
It’s notable to see the rapid movement of change in Spain, a country that didn’t legalize divorce until the 1980s. Since then, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's socialist government has legalized gay marriage, reduced the influence of the Catholic Church in education, and set up an Equality Ministry.
The Front United Left and Catlunya Party introduced and supported the decision to support the step forward to nonhuman rights. The new resolutions are expected to become law, and the government is now committed to update the statute book within a year to outlaw harmful experiments on apes in Spain.
Keeping apes for circuses, television commercials or filming will also be forbidden under Spain's penal code. Keeping an estimated 315 nonhuman great apes in Spanish zoos will not be illegal, suggesting that these rights will still carry a discrimination problem. Friends of Animals and GRASP believe this custom should be completely ended and a concerted effort to protect the ape’s equatorial habitats.
The Great Ape Project, founded in 1993, originally argued that "non-human hominids" --chimpanzees, gorillas, orang-utans and bonobos -- should enjoy the right to life, freedom and not to be tortured. Zoos clearly fall short of the freedom criterion. Sanctuaries that are prepared to take in apes, meet their needs, and advocate for their rights (including freedom from being displayed), however, are very rare indeed. Primarily Primates of San Antonio, Texas is arguably the only such refuge in North America. We are not familiar with any in Spain at this time, but will update this site accordingly when we find any Spanish refuges that are seriously committed to the rights of nonhuman primates.
Unless and until extending rights will ensure the phasing out of captivity and the protection of habitat where true freedom can be experienced, the victory in Spain will be illusory. It’s essential that advocates point this out every time we speak on this issue.
1 Quoted by Martin Roberts, “Spanish Parliament to Extend Rights to Apes” - Reuters (25 Jun. 2008).
2 “Victory in Spain: Spanish Congress Announces Support for the Great Ape Project and Great Apes” - GAP News (25 Jun. 2008)
Consciousness-Raising for a Sanctuary Movement
A Brief Case Study: Objectifying Former Laboratory Apes in Fundraising Campaign
Lee Hall, October 2007
One reason a sanctuary movement based on social justice politics is so important involves the need for an alternative model in the midst of the tendency -- both of society at large and the conventional humane charity -- to paint an image of nonhuman animals as playthings, pets, symbols or caricatures of humans. The prevailing narrative employs the language patterns that have long been hallmarks of human dominion over the rest of the planet's residents.
A few examples: One may be asked to protect bears from being hunted down and killed because they are "shy and magical" (like teddy bears); or one may be approached to contribute to a campaign to regulate the possible fates of free-roaming horses because they are "icons of the American West" (like paintings on an otherwise flat surface, like reminders of idealized human settlers as glorious takers and tamers of a wild land). Rescued adult elephants may be referred to as the "girls" at the refuge (infantilized as African adults frequently were in the Americas, and as the "girls" at the office still are).
Interwoven into this narrative is the subtle message that those whom we have subjugated deserve or earn care and protection because they are non-threatening, harmless, controllable. No matter that they have vastly greater physical strength than humans. No matter that (to the extent we can ever know their intimate psychological lives) they are not content to be captive. In any case, they were never asked.
And sometimes, where nonhuman animals are the subject, it is hard to tell the difference between an advertisement for entertainment and a charity solicitation.
A troubling example appears this month (October 2007). Linked from the U.S. Humane Society's home page, it has also been promoted in an e-mailed release. The idea is for the visitor to take a personality test to “find out how much you have in common with the three chimpanzees of Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, an animal sanctuary operated by The Fund for Animals in partnership with The Humane Society of the United States.”
Like our friends and family, chimpanzees have their own unique personality quirks. Three of our favorite chimps at Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, an animal sanctuary in Texas, are no different. When it comes to their interests and emotions, Kitty, Lulu, and Midge have more in common with us than you might think!
Take our Chimpanality Quiz and find out which of these three special chimps is most like you…
Each ape has personality quirks, the visitor learns, comparable to the difference between wanting to stay home to eat popcorn in front of a video screen and having a night on the town.
Are you a fun-loving risk-taker? A loyal pal? Is settling in with a movie and popcorn your idea of the perfect Friday night, or would you rather be out on the town?
Or between going to a party to eat free food, talk to the friends one came in with, or swing from a chandelier.
So, who are you? Cool Kitty, Loveable Lulu, or Mischievous Midge? Take our quiz below and find out!
At the summer's hottest party, you are the one:
 Stuffing your face with free food
 Talking to the friends you came with
 Swinging from the chandelier
This raises the question: Were they human refugees, perhaps refugees perceived as an “other” racial group, would an analogous quiz be appropriate?
The website version prompts the visitor: “Enter your email to receive a special message and some cool free stuff from the chimp most like you!” That the apes' messages (messages which cannot seriously be taken as a reflection of the nonhuman voices) would be given to quiz-takers as a reward for attention to this promotion demeans these nonhuman residents and human onlookers alike. Another “Chimpanality Quiz” question:
When you meet someone, what do you notice first?
These apes are being represented by humans who have control over them. Their own personalities and voices have been thwarted and silenced. They are not free to express themselves on their own terms and never truly can be; to paraphrase Catharine MacKinnon, they were deprived of a life from which their voices might come. That the apes personalities' are being judged in relation to a party atmosphere of human contrivance is limiting and degrading and it erases the most vital interests of apes, including their dignity.
The language, complete with the names Cool Kitty, Loveable Lulu and Mischievous Midge, calls to mind the incongruous joviality of a chimpanzee-for-party-hire company, perhaps, or a pet costume advertisement. Members of completely subjugated classes have historically faced the prerogative of the dominant class to mark them with nicknames, often patently clownish or jokingly pretentious -- which they have no way to protest. This promotion may be an attention-getter -- there is one line in each promotion referring to the use of apes in experiments -- but its burlesque language undermines the work of establishing a foundation for a respectful view of nonhuman primates and their own customs and needs.
 Humane Society of the United States, “Take the Chimpanality Quiz!Which Chimp is Most Like You?” (last visited 9 Oct. 2007).
 E-mail alert from Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO, Humane Society of the United States, “What do you have in common with chimps?” (20 Oct. 2007).
Britain's #2 Grocery Chain Announces Palm Oil Ban
July 2007 -- Two of Britain's biggest retail names -- Body Shop and the supermarket chain Asda -- will stop selling palm oil from Indonesian and Malaysian rainforests. Palm oil is often the unidentified "vegetable oil" in everything from chocolate to cosmetics to animal feed.
The booming demand in Europe and Asia has led to growing concern that huge swaths of rainforest are being cut down to make way for plantations, damaging important eco-systems on which local people depend, and threatening the survival of orang-utans and other animals. Rainforest destruction also accounts for about a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The Body Shop cosmetics company claims it has established a sustainable organic supplier in Colombia. Body Shop, which operates in 57 countries, said within six months it planned to source only sustainable palm oil for soap, which accounts for 80 per cent of its use of the ingredient.
Asda has banned palm oil sourced from the worst affected regions in Borneo and Sumatra.
Their move follows a three-year intensive campaign by environmental groups, notably Friends of the Earth.
Later this year retailers and manufacturers across Europe who have joined the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil are expected to publish details of how they will create a network of certified sustainable plantations.
To read the full article in London's Observer, click here.
Hiasl: Ape Appeal in Austria?
GRASP needs more information on this one. We've asked, but the good folks in Austria who first told us about this case must be understandably distracted.
Let's discuss what's being said through the media about the case of Hiasl the chimpanzee.
At the end of April (2007), the media published the story "Chimp denied a legal guardian" by Ned Stafford.
First, can we agree that it seems a lot more respectful to say chimpanzee rather than chimp? (The term “chimp” is not only in the headline, but also in the writer’s text.)
On to the substance of the article.
Hiasl, if given a legally appointed guardian, could not be sold and could “fight for support money.” But the article says an Austrian judge rejected this idea. The article calls the judge’s stance “a blow to a growing movement in Europe attempting to give apes some of the legal rights of humans, such as protection from being owned.”
Proponents of ape rights say they will appeal the decision and continue pushing for a Spanish law that would extend some human rights to apes.
The article observes that nonhuman apes are no longer used in most western nations for research, “with the United States being a major exception.” So the United States would, of course, be exactly the spot where such agitation matters most.
What has happened here? In 2000, with the backing of a whole lot of well-heeled humane group, Clinton signed the CHIMP Act, which effectively saved research on nonhuman apes. Before that, it was widely thought that a breeding moratorium would take hold in the scientific community, which had lamented that nonhuman apes are just so expensive to care for.
But the CHIMP Act relieved a portion of the care and the financial responsibility from the labs. The law was called a “victory” by most of the animal-advocacy sector, but certainly not by GRASP. The reality is that the CHIMP Act was one of the worst moments in the history of U.S. animal-advocacy groups. Increasingly, such groups are throwing up their hands, calling public institutions (such as zoos, or Louisiana’s Chimp Haven, which operates in the interest of government researchers under the CHIMP Act) adequate sites for nonhuman apes and other animals. Then the groups go back to their fundraising.
Peter Singer also condoned the CHIMP Act. As just about every visitor to this site will already know, Singer is the international president of the Great Ape Project (GAP), which seeks various international bans on using apes. Apparently, GAP is torn. Do they or do they not seriously want rights for apes? They have not treated the matter seriously in the United States, where it counts most.
In the Austrian case, the Association Against Animal Factories (VGT) earlier this year went to court in an attempt to name a legal guardian for Hiasl (pronounced Hee-sel), who was taken in 1982 from western Africa for research use. But due to a documentation lapse, Hiasl and another ape in the shipment ended up at the cash-strapped Vienna Animal Protection Shelter.
The VGT, worried that the shelter could dump the apes, decided to seek a legal guardian for Hiasl. We don’t learn why Hiasl, and not the other ape, Rosi, was picked as the test plaintiff, but a hint follows...
Paula Stibbe, a British citizen living in Austria, was Hiasl's proposed guardian. Unfortunately, Stibbe justified the value of their relationship by saying, "I consider him a friend. He greets me with kisses, hugs." This sounds a little too much like portraying Hiasl as a pet; hugs aren’t the point. Hiasl shouldn’t have to like any particular human being to be deemed a person.
More to come....
Logging Puts Orang-utans and Other Animals in Peril; Australian Group Takes Action
Awareness is growing about hydrogenated vegetable oil. Even though it’s not an animal product, like butter or lard, it negatively affects human health. The “trans fats” in hydrogenated vegetable oil cause an increase in blood levels of what’s called "bad cholesterol." To replace trans fats, many food producers are now turning to saturated fats, such as coconut oil, cocoa butter, and palm oil.
But there’s a catch. Unless we are sure that vegetable-based oils come from a safe source, they may come at the cost of disturbances and deforestation in the last remaining habitats of orang-utans and other animals.
A report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) warned earlier this year that palm logging is destroying the remaining habitat for orangutans in Borneo and Sumatra so rapidly that up to 98 percent may be destroyed by 2022 without urgent action.
Since the group Primates for Primates began a campaign on the issue of deforestation for palm oil, the Australian government indicated it is now going to consult with the public regarding the labelling of palm oil.
Primates for Primates contacted every member of the federal Parliament, and now the group has a pool of supporters. One MP has put Parliament on notice with questions regarding palm oil. Australia funds some orangutan sanctuaries, at the same time failing to stop the destruction of their homes, where they could live free lives and not need such support in the first place.
Lynette Shanley of Primates for Primates added, “We are asking them why they are not putting money into the protection of other animals; why only orangutans?”
The group has received a letter from a minister stating, “The Australian government is unable to push for an end to the trade in Palm Oil because, as a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Australia must comply with WTO trade rules. These rules generally do not allow Members to ban the import of products except in very limited circumstances. Accordingly, Australia banned imports or palm oil, it would risk violating its WTO obligations.”
Does this mean Australia must adhere to trade rules even when the trade in palm oil is destroying habitat of so many animals? “We are following this up with the WTO,” said Shanley.
In related news, the Scottish biscuits known as Paterson’s Oatcakes now sport an “orang-utan friendly” badge on the label -- a drawing of an orang-utan inside a green ring). The company states:
Recently there has been growing publicity regarding the Rainforests of Asia being cleared to make way for Palm Oil plantations. This is having a major impact on human's oldest relative, the Orang-utan and the demand for Palm Oil is predicted to rise substantially in the next 5 years. We removed Palm Oil from our oatcake recipe 4 years ago and replaced it with the more sustainable and less saturated Olive Oil. Although we realise that it's difficult to stop the growth of palm oil plantations, we see our switch to Olive Oil as our small contribution to helping to protect the loveable Orang-utan. Recently we have adopted a seven year old male Bornean Orang-tan. His name is Etin and he currently lives with his mother in Eastern Sabah, Malaysia. At a recent Tesco show at the Hub in Edinburgh, we made up 'Orang-utan friendly' goody bags. We sold these for £1 each and raised approximately £210, all of which has been donated to WWF.
We at GRASP are uncertain at this time as to the overall benefits the World Wildlife Fund is actually providing to these apes, and will find out more. We would prefer to see such companies help small groups who are less keen on fundraising and snuggling up to destructive multinationals, and more serious about the interests of the planet's other animals. (And yes, the drawing of the ape in Paterson’s orang-utan friendly badge is designed in a "loveable" style, giving the face a somewhat cartoonish appearance.)
In any case it is good that the issue is getting some attention, and perhaps other product lines will take notice. And it’s clear that no-nonsense animal-rights activists, including Primates for Primates’ Lynette Shanley, will ensure that this issue stays in the public view.
Lee Hall, March 2007.
GRASP reviews news from Spain, regarding a proposal in the Balearic Islands
March 2007 – Last month, on 28 February 2007, the Balearic Parliament approved a Proposition “No de Ley” (a preliminary proposal; not a law) to support to the legal recognition of nonhuman apes.
The Balearic Islands comprise an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea, off Spain’s eastern coast. They form one of the Autonomous Communities of Spain, the Autonomous Community of the Balearic Islands. This approval suggests that other autonomous communities, as well as Spain’s national Parliament, might also support such a proposal.
(For earlier, related commentary, see the news item below, "Update from Spain: Amnesty International and Catholic Church are taken aback.")
Last May, the Greens’ representative Deputy Margalida Rosselló presented the Non-Law proposal for a review by the Parliament of the Balearic Islands. The presentation included a series of scientific arguments which has not been supplied to GRASP. We understand that the presentation called for the Parliament to undertake any necessary actions in order to protect nonhuman great apes from maltreatment, enslavement, torture, death and extinction.
Should preservation of the apes' territory be stepped up, and should this prevent any group of nonhuman primates from being captured and commodified, GRASP would of course desire to support this effort. All conscious beings should have the provisions upon which this initiative rests: the rights to life, freedom and protection from torture. Or, as GRASP sees it, the simple right to live on their own terms, free of human domination.
But to the extent that the Great Ape Project has said that the living conditions for these apes should be "at least comparable those of companion animals" (as reported in malagaes.com on 5 March 2007), we are baffled. This kind of statement sends a confusing message and GRASP wishes to again make it clear that we do not condone breeding and using animals in captive situations -- no matter what conditions are offered.
Reported in the same article is the view of the Great Ape Project that the Balearic Community should commit to conservation of great apes, biological diversity, and a halt to the spread of AIDS and Ebola that’s connected with the consumption of ape flesh. Also reported was the Great Ape Project’s interest in the opportunity this will provide the Balearic Community to get involved in the international study of nonhuman great apes, specifically in collaboration with the Jane Goodall Institute in the Congo-Brazeville.
Pedro Pozas was the spokesperson cited as Executive Director of the Great Ape Project in Spain. Pozas affirmed that this initiative, in addition to supporting conservation and education efforts in situ, is essential for a basis to create a Law of Great Apes. This would improve the conditions of those in captivity and prevent experimenters from using nonhuman great apes in the Balearic territory, and prevent circuses from using them there.
GRASP reiterates that we support this proposal only insofar as it calls for the freedom of at least some other nonhuman communities to experience their own lives on their own terms. We are against any so-called Law of Great Apes that would further harden into custom the use of apes in captivity by laying down rules regarding the conditions and treatment in labs and other institutional settings.
Pedro Pozas wrote in an announcement dated 28 February 2007 that "we are the relatives of great apes -- genetic kindred to humanity, beings similar to humanity and so maltreated" and that "[f]or the first time in the world, the great apes are being recognized by a Parliament as closely related beings, and for their need of protection."
This, too, is problematic. Putting all of this together, it seems the Great Ape Project is coming up with most every argument but what's at the core and ultimately the most important: other apes are simply conscious of their life experience.
If they fail to say that, they risk making this a victory for one elite group of species, providing arguments against further expansion of rights. It's important to bring up the point that serious moral concern is appropriate for all conscious beings, and not to focus overmuch on genetic similarity. Ironically, trying to make the gene argument may well backfire on the Great Ape Project, because scientists are quick to point out that key differences can exist in what sounds like a small percentage of DNA variation.
The messages coming from Great Ape Project in Spain are ambiguous at best. GRASP calls on activists in Spain to exert pressure on campaigners to stick to abolitionist principles.
Lee Hall, 7 March 2007.
Reader response to "GRASP reviews news from
I have just read your post on GRASP: "GRASP reviews news from
I wish to, very briefly, clarify the position of the Great Ape Project in
First of all I should stress that, even though I support and collaborate
Your concerns about GAP-Spain's initiatives seem to me to have to do with
Whether pressing for the rights of particular species helps or hinders
In any case, I can assure you that the people in the GAP-Spain consider
I cannot imagine the GAP proposing any Law of Great Apes "laying down rules
There is a confusion in the Malaga.es article you refer to and in your
Thank you for your attention and my best encouragement for your efforts to
1 May 2007
[(1) To see this more clearly I recommend you watch Francisco Garrido's by Open University]
Apes in entertainment: framing the debate
April 2006 - In an article in the Boston Herald called "Babe to broadcasters: No more monkey business" television celebrity Pamela Anderson is called "the former 'Baywatch' babe and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' honorary chairwoman."
The Herald describes Anderson as "active in chimp rights after taking her kids to 'a shabby petting zoo that rents lions, tigers and a fascinating pair of chimpanzees to productions like 'The Gong Show.'"
Anderson has charged that trainers sometimes beat chimpanzee into obedience for television filming.
The issue that certain apes (chimpanzees and orang-utans) should not be subjugated for the entertainment of other apes (ourselves) is not well explained by picking out the shabbiest possible zoo to condemn. That indicates that the complaint is about the shabbiness of the zoo, rather than the breeding or trading of chimpanzees in the first place. No nonhuman apes are native to the Americas; none should be here.
Thus, the activist should not make beatings the focus. The problem is that we have chimpanzee trainers at all, whether it's for showbusiness, for biomedical research, for language research. As advocates for the rights of great apes, we are here to be clear: other apes are conscious individuals whose territories should be protected and whose interest in living in those territories, on their terms, should be respected.
And another thing.... We cannot leave this item without mentioning our disappointment with the Boston Herald or any media that refers to a full-grown person as a "babe"—whether or not it's in the context of nonhuman rights. Such infantilization of female Homo sapiens demeans the work of people who have advanced human rights.
Update from Spain: Amnesty International and Catholic Church are taken aback
April 2006 - The human rights group Amnesty International has spoken against the idea of according basic rights to nonhuman great apes. As we reported earlier, Spain's governing Socialist Party is promoting an initiative to acknowledge basic rights. As the Spanish Parliament prepares to debate the issue, the media are considering the proposal relevant to habitat protection and prohibition of the use of nonhuman great apes for entertainment. The measures would also ban scientific experiments with great apes; they have already been effectively abolished in Britain.
Amnesty International correctly observed that the rights of many humans in the world are yet to be respected. The group also correctly understood that advocates are actually asking for basic rights for nonhuman apes, acknowledged by the United Nations — not just improvements in the conditions in which humans hold and use other great apes.
What Amnesty International misses is that respecting the 'personhood' of great apes does not diminish human rights. There is no reason why the basic rights of life, liberty, and freedom from torture should only be applicable to humans. Moreover, such a change would help humanity to preserve the environment instead of destroying it, and it would open more general discussions of animal rights in Spain.
The Catholic Church is on record opposing the measure. Fernando Sebastian denounced the concept when, in the archbishop's view, abortions violate the human rights of embryos. The archbishop also reportedly said, "Too much progress becomes ridiculous."
The ape rights initiative has received backing from academics in dozen of universities. GRASP submitted a letter of support for the measure.
From Property to Person - The Case of Evelyn Hart
In the year 2000, Seton Hall Constitutional Law Journal published the article "From Property to Person: The Case of Evelyn Hart" which includes a model brief on behalf of a plaintiff who demands equal rights beyond humanity. The article was most recently cited in the Bibliography of Cass R. Sunstein & Martha C. Nussbaum, Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions (Oxford, 2004). The article is also part of the syllabus of Loyola Law School’s animal law course, taught by Adjunct Professor Sonia Waisman, who is co-author of the law textbook Animal Law (Carolina Academic Press, 2006). The syllabus notes that the condition of “humanness” is not essential to becoming a “person” under the law and obtaining all the rights associated with such classification. Waisman adds that “these ideas may seem preposterous to some, but it was not so long ago that the concept of mental disability rights was unheard of as well.”
In the context of non-human personhood, this article marks the debut of a model U.S. Supreme Court brief in the legal literature. This is designed to spark further debate in law and philosophy journals, to enhance ethics courses, to be cited in court, and to be used in an actual case on behalf of a non-human plaintiff and her class.
Plaintiff Hart's sentience alone should suffice for legal personhood. Additionally, non-human apes possess the key traits which so obviously underlie the constitutional protections held by human persons that the irrationality of our prejudice against Hart --and, by extension, against other nonhuman apes — is unmistakable.
It is morally unjustifiable to treat sentient animals as items of chattel property. "From Property to Person: The Case of Evelyn Hart" makes a strong case that U.S. law already protects all apes, human or others. By describing the case of Nicholas Romeo, it also point out the injustice of denying respect to any sentient individual. We expect that Evelyn Hart's case will inspire jurists to act on this reality.
GRASP thanks web design specialists Carsten Scholvien and Chris Kelly for marathon work on the site, including the article with its unique footnote search function.