As you probably know, I’m a big fan of apes. You could say I’m ape for apes. Maybe it’s a family thing…
The Year of the Gorilla ambassador, Ian Redmond, (OBE), on Sunday 26 July 2009 participated in a discussion on the BBC1’s ‘The Big Question’. One of the big questions on that day was whether apes, such as gorilla’s and chimpanzees, should be given rights.
For Ian Redmond, who has spent “hundreds of hours in the company of apes”, and even “become friends” with some of them, some basic rights should definitely be accorded these majestic creatures. In a post on the Year of the Gorilla blog at WildlifeDirect, Ian says that great apes are very similar to humans in many aspects such that they have been classed into the same biological family as humans – Hominidae.
That said, his argument for apes rights is that great apes are self conscious animals with cognitive abilities similar to a those of a human child and should therefore have similar rights. Ian laments that despite apes being biologically classed together with humans, in law, they still have the legal standing of a piece of furniture. He says:
It seems to me (and many others) quite wrong that a self-aware social mammal with cognitive abilities similar to a child has the same legal standing as a chair, i.e. a possession to be bought and sold. To me, great apes deserve respect, and the granting of basic rights in law might change atavistic attitudes and help prevent the abuses that humans inflict on them.
In most countries without wild ape populations, captive apes can be bought and sold legally, and any protection they do have in law is accorded mainly because they are endangered species or because they are animals and covered by anti-cruelty laws.
To Ian, these laws are interpreted to mean physical abuse and thus do not constitute ‘rights’. For rights he proposes that we take the path charted by the Great Apes Project (GAP) which seeks the right to life, liberty and freedom from torture.
The debate over ape rights is an ethical one. Some think that giving apes rights is equating them to humans. This is evident because most people agree that there is a need for greater respect for, and better conservation of, great apes. When ‘rights’ are mentioned however, distinct polarities emerge among those who had previously agreed. You can however differentiate the rights that GAP proposes for great apes from those sought for humans by reading the GAP recommendations (for ape rights) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Ian recommends, in the short term, a “focus on educating people about apes to increase respect for their cognitive abilities and social skills”. After this, he reckons, “the logic of granting them rights might not seem such a radical idea…”
Where do you stand?