Great apes and Non-Human-Hominids (gorillas, orang-utans, bonobos) in New
Zealand will be guaranteed special rights. For the first time in history a country
passed a law which protects animal rights: These animals will only be used in
experiments, if the results are relevant to the animals themselves or their
species. Experiments which would be of use for humans will be forbidden.
Until now it was up to the state to intervene in cases of obvious ill-treatment of animals. In the future every citizen will be able to defend the rights of the animals.
The bill was brought before parliament by a group of scientists, philosophers and lawyers who all stand behind the so-called "Great Ape Project", an international movement fighting for a kind of "human rights" for chimpanzees and their relatives.
They demand from UNO a declaration of "Rights of the Great Apes" similar to the bill in New Zealand and that the animals cannot be put behind bars without a court"s decision. This would go a step further than New Zealand"s bill which is the first national bill on earth to break through the species barrier.
Great Apes" Capacities
The "Great Apes Project" underlines the similarity between humans and these animals: apes can recognise themselves in a mirror, they have different personalities, their relations can be of very deep feelings and they are genetically 98,5% similar to humans.
The main representatives of the project are chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall, biologist of evolution Richard Dawkins, and the Australian philosopher Peter Singer. They compare their fight against the injustice in the treatment of the great apes with the fight for the rights of women, homosexuals or mentally or physically disabled people.
Medical researchers fear that in the near future other animals also obtain such rights as they are similar to the apes making animal experiments no longer possible.
The promoters state though that the line has to be drawn at those animals who can recognise themselves. These are only, according to today's knowledge, the great apes and dolphins.
No experimentation in New Zealand
It is remarkable that there is no animal experimentation being carried out in New Zealand and the 28 chimpanzees and six orang-utans on the island are kept well. It is hoped that other countries will follow suit and that the law might have an influence on the treatment of great apes especially in the USA. In the States 1700 chimpanzees are at present in laboratories and being used for experiments. Even in Switzerland experiments are carried out on monkeys. According to recent statistics in 1998, 585 monkeys were used for research, 90% of which in industrial research. It is not known how many great apes were among them.
Sigrid De Leo