Do you see a monkey, or a 'person'?
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published May 5, 2007
VIENNA - In some ways, Hiasl is like any other Viennese: He indulges a weakness for pastry, likes to paint and enjoys watching TV.
But he doesn't care for coffee, and he isn't actually a person - yet.
In a case that could set a global legal precedent for granting basic rights to apes, animal rights advocates are seeking to get the 26-year-old male chimpanzee legally declared a "person."
Hiasl's supporters argue he needs that status to become a legal entity that can receive donations and get a guardian to look out for his interests.
"We mean the right to life, the right to not be tortured, the right to freedom under certain conditions, " said Eberhart Theuer, a lawyer leading the challenge on behalf of the Association Against Animal Factories, a Vienna animal rights group. "We're not talking about the right to vote here."
The campaign began after the animal sanctuary where Hiasl (pronounced HEE-zul) and another chimp, Rosi, have lived for 25 years went bankrupt.
Activists want to ensure the apes don't wind up homeless. Both have already suffered: They were captured as babies in Sierra Leone in 1982 and smuggled in a crate to Austria for use in pharmaceutical experiments. Customs officers intercepted the shipment and turned the chimps over to the shelter.
Their food and veterinary bills run about $6, 800 a month. Donors have offered to help, but there's a catch: Under Austrian law, only a person can receive personal donations.
Organizers could set up a foundation to collect cash for Hiasl, whose life expectancy in captivity is about 60 years. But without basic rights, they contend, he could be sold to someone outside Austria, where the chimp is protected by strict animal cruelty laws.
If Hiasl gets a guardian, "it will be the first time the species barrier will have been crossed for legal 'personhood, ' " said Jan Creamer, chief executive of Animal Defenders International, which is working to end the use of primates in research.
A date for the appeal hasn't been set, but Hiasl's legal team has lined up expert witnesses, including Jane Goodall, the world's foremost observer of chimpanzee behavior.