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Apes get legal rights in Spain, to surprise of bullfight critics

June 26, 2008

An ape looks out from a cage at a sanctuary outside Madrid

Thomas Catan in Madrid

Spain is to become the first country to extend legal rights to apes, wrongfooting animal rights activists who have long campaigned against bullfighting in the country.

In what is thought to be the first time a national legislature has granted such rights to animals, the Spanish parliament's environmental committee voted to approve resolutions committing the country to the Great Apes Project, designed by scientists and philosophers who say that humans' closest biological relatives also deserve rights.

The resolution, adopted with crossparty support, calls on the Government to promote the Great Apes Project internationally and ensure the protection of apes from "abuse, torture and death". "This is a historic moment in the struggle for animal rights," Pedro Pozas, the Spanish director of the Great Apes Project, told The Times. "It will doubtless be remembered as a key moment in the defence of our evolutionary comrades."

Reactions to the vote were mixed. Many Spaniards were perplexed that the country should consider it a priority when the economy is slowing sharply and Spain has been rocked by violent fuel protests. Others thought it was a strange decision, given that Spain has no wild apes of its own.

In an editorial yesterday, the Madrid daily El Mundo noted that the only apes in Spain were "the ones that could cross over from Gibraltar", and questioned why the country should become "the principal flag-bearer of the apes" cause. "With the problems that Spanish farmers and fishermen are experiencing, it is surprising that members of Congress should dedicate their efforts to trying to turn the country of bullfighting into the principal defender of the apes," it wrote.

Spain's conservative Popular Party also complained that the resolution sought to give animals the same rights as humans -- something that the Socialist Government denies. Some critics questioned why Spain should afford legal protection from death or torture to great apes but not bulls. But Mr Pozas said that the vote would set a precedent, establishing legal rights for animals that could be extended to other species. "We are seeking to break the species barrier -- we are just the point of the spear," he said.

The resolutions will outlaw harmful experiments on great apes, though activist say that they have no knowledge of any being carried out in Spain. It will also make keeping great apes for circuses, TV commercials or filming a criminal offence.

Keeping apes in zoos will remain legal, but conditions for the 350 apes in Spanish zoos will have to improve. Animal rights activists say that 70 per cent of apes in Spanish zoos live in sub-human conditions. The philosophers Peter Singer and Paola Cavalieri founded the Great Ape Project in 1993, saying that hominids such as chimpanzees, gorillas and orang-utans should enjoy the right to life and freedom and not to be mistreated.

The ape world

-- In addition to humans there are three genera of great apes: gorillas, chimpanzees and orang-utans

-- The first two are confined to Africa, while the third occurs in South-East Asia

-- Humans and chimps share 99 per cent of their active genetic material

-- 7,300 Sumatran orang-utans remain in the wild

-- The mountain gorillas of the Democratic Republic of Congo have dwindled to 700, and the Cross River gorilla is believed to number only 250

-- The UN predicts that some species of great ape could be extinct within a generation

Sources: The World Atlas of Great Apes; Times archives



Just in from our colleagues in Spain: Just hours ago, the Spanish Parliament announced its support for the Great Ape Project's mission to attain legal rights for non-human great apes. "This is the first time in the History of Humanity that an important Parliament has announced its approval of rights for Great Primates" announced Dr. Pedro Y. Ynterian, Director of GAP Brazil and incoming GAP International President. This is the central issue the Great Ape Project has focused on for the last 14 years.

This is an important step towards future governmental support for great apes worldwide. Under most government structures, legal rights are the only way to insure that non-human great apes are free from torture, unnecessary death and capture. Simple "animal protection" laws are not enough. We congratulate the hard work and efforts of GAP Spain and its members as well at the political parties that introduced and supported the decision: The Front United Left and Catlunya Party. This is a tremendous accomplishment.

GAP NEWS June 25, 2008

Michele L. Stumpe, Esq.


Great Ape Project, International

Great Ape Project, North America

P: 678-336-7160

F: 770-434-7376


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