May 30, 2024


 An Austrian court is studying whether a 26-year-old chimpanzee should be given human rights and treated as an asylum-seeker from Sierra Leone. Hiasl, a lively and affectionate animal who recognises himself in a mirror and plays hide-and-seek, would be saved from a vivisection laboratory if the court appoints a human guardian for him. His supporters contend that he is equivalent to a human. They argue that a chimp’s DNA is about 98% similar to a ours. They can use tools and have an emotional life.

Animal experts are queuing up to support the case. Professor Volker Sommer, a chimp expert at University College London, says that "It’s untenable to talk of dividing humans and humanoid apes because there are no clear-cut criteria, neither biological, nor mental, nor social."

However, Steve Jones, a professor of genetics at the University of London, counters that it is absurd to speak of human rights for the great apes. "Where do you stop?" he asked the BBC. "Being human is unique and nothing to do with biology. Say that apes share 98% of human DNA and therefore should have 98% of human rights. Well, mice share 90% of human DNA. Should they get 90% of human rights? And plants have more DNA than humans…"