Almost thirty years ago Paola Cavalieri and Peter Singer published The Great Ape Project (1993), bringing together the arguments of numerous philosophers and scientists in favor of recognizing the right of our evolutionary brothers to live, without being tortured or imprisoned. Since then, many scientific discoveries have been made, the laws have changed, the situation of the apes and, also, the moral argument. Therefore, the defense of the apes needed a scientific, legal and philosophical update, which is collected, with photos and maps included, in ape rightsby Paula Casal and Peter Singer (Trotta, 2022). The financial benefits of the book have been donated entirely to the Great Ape Project.
To begin with, now we no longer talk about “the three great ape species”, because all apes have been reclassified as hominids and we are ten species: all three of the genus Homo (humans, bonobos, and chimpanzees), the Bornean, Sumatran, and Tapanuli orangutans, and the western, eastern, mountain, and Cross River gorillas. Neanderthals and Denisovans, now extinct, are hominins. There are more species, but fewer individuals: humans have pushed all others to the brink of extinction, especially since the pandemic began. Tragically, this is happening just as we have discovered that they have far more capabilities than we previously thought, and that, as neuroscientists Lori Marino and Bob Jacobs have shown, captivity causes profound brain damage to those with such capabilities, so conservation in zoos is not an option.
While free apes are slaughtered and their cultures die out, campaigns to defend captive apes have been bearing fruit. In 1997, the UK suspended licenses to conduct invasive research, and the US National Research Council ended breeding programs at National Institutes of Health facilities on ethical grounds. He also enacted the Chimpanzee Law in 2000, granting retirement, instead of euthanasia, to chimpanzees already used.
In 1999, New Zealand’s Animal Welfare Act banned biomedical research with no likely net benefit to great apes, and the Dutch research center abandoned it in 2002 due to lack of results. Sweden banned this research in 2003, Austria in 2004, Switzerland in 2006, and the European Union in 2010. In the United States, interest in experimentation waned because of its high costs and low benefits. In 2011, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences published the report Chimpanzee in Biomedical and Behavioral Research. Assessing the Necessity, describing the experiments as unnecessary. As continued acute stress not only produces depression but can also compromise the immune system, the results are not only scarce but unreliable.
At first, we Spanish-speakers limited ourselves to observing the struggle for hominid rights by English-speakers. But then the Great Ape Project of Spain and Brazil began to spread the message with more perseverance and dedication than the others, until, finally, Latin America began an authentic legal revolution towards the recognition of hominin rights.
The docuthiller by Alex Cuellar and Rafa Sanchez (non) human person (2022) follows the processes of Habeas corpus of the orangutan Sandra (2014) and the chimpanzee Cecilia (2016). But many other legal processes -like the one in Switzerland (2005), Lilly and Debby (2008), and Jimmy (2009) in Brazil; Toti (2013 and 2020), Monti (2014), Toto (2014), Martin, Sasha and Kangoo (2017) in Argentina; o Tommy (2013), Kiko (2013) and Hércules y Leo (2013) in the United States- have presented a chimpanzee as a subject of rights and a legal person. Philosophically, the most plausible conception of the person is as a cluster concept (cluster), that is, as a weighted list of non-arbitrary and related features that are neither individually necessary nor sufficient. Memory, for example, is characteristic of people, but there may be people with amnesia, and not people with memory. Other cluster concepts are art, democracy, species and mathematical proof. Art, for example, is not necessarily something beautiful, nor a representation of nature.
Legal processes and their defenses have been taking on a life of their own in the international legal culture and cases are becoming more frequent, involve more species and a variety of procedures, and reach higher courts. For example, in 2019, the Colombian Constitutional Court called me to testify as an expert in the Habeas corpus of Chucho, the Andean bear. This is an example of how, once we manage to break the species barrier, and the legal rights of apes are recognized, the door remains open so that the cases of other animals can be considered, which the cluster concept does not exclude.
In fact, these types of defense have not only been applied to other primates, such as the Estrellita monkey from Ecuador (2022), or other animals aware of their identity, such as killer whales (Tilikum, Katina, Corky, Katatka and Ulises in 2012) and the elephants (Kaavan from Islamabad in 2020 and Happy from the Bronx in 2022). In Costa Rica, the rights of the Kivu lion have already been recognized (2022).
And what have we done in Spain? The volunteers, especially Pedro Pozas, have not stopped. But, at the state level, practically nothing has been done, despite the fact that Spain has been the only country in the world in whose Parliament the adherence to the Great Ape Project was successfully defended.
Fourteen years ago the Proposition No of Law was approved that the deputy Joan Herrera (IC-Greens) presented on June 25, 2008, collecting the two Proposals that had been presented before, in the Congress of Deputies, the deputy Francisco Garrido (PSOE -Greens) in 2005 and 2006, and that the Balearic Parliament had approved in 2007. José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero did not ratify it within the deadline, despite the fact that this had been an initiative of his party, which had publicly announced its support for Herrera and that all the points of the proposition had been approved unanimously or by absolute majority. We lost a great opportunity to make history as a country. The relay could be taken over now, and with success assured, by any party, especially with some changes in formulation and philosophical argumentation that ape rights Explain. And the Great Apes Law that the Ministry of Social Rights and the 2030 Agenda has promised us could also be created directly.
Since we started this march with the Great Ape Spain Project in 1998, the need for this law has been very clear. To begin with, in Spain there is not even a law that prohibits the private possession of hominids. So we have had to wage long legal battles to rescue apes that people have hidden in their homes, without veterinary assistance, sometimes without teeth so they don’t bite and even without fingers, due to self-mutilation, followed by infection, which can carry such intense and continuous mental pain.
Sometimes it has taken us two years to manage to rescue an individual from a filthy cage, because as they are not domestic, agricultural, or laboratory animals, or native fauna, or come from a foreign country, the apes remained in a kind of land legal and we could not appeal to the legislation that gives some protection to these groups. Now, thanks to the Directorate General for Animal Rights (DGDA), things have improved and there is a new legal definition of “domestic” that we could try to stretch.
But it is absurd that in order to defend beings with the capacities of two to three year olds we have to insist that they are “domestic animals”, when the problem is precisely the aberration of having a hominid as pet or pet. Now that there are those who propose to extinct the Neanderthals or Denisovans, it would be nonsense if, in order to defend them, it would be necessary to say that they are domestic animals. They are not pets, nor should they be. They are tribes that we must protect from massacre and extinction at the hands of executioners such as the coltan and palm oil mafias, as well as those who hunt them to sell them as domestic animals.
For all these reasons, it is important that you write a letter to the DGDA in favor of a Law on Hominids or Great Apes, and send it to [email protected]. Make history. Your primate cousins need you.