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Jane Goodall, expert on primates, is to tell a court that apes are people, in a groundbreaking case that will determine whether a chimp can have human rights.

Goodall has agreed to testify that apes deserve the same treatment as humans.

The case has been filed in an Austrian court by Paula Stibbe, 38, a Briton who wants to become the legal guardian of a chimp called (Hiasl) Matthew.

The case was accepted by the court before officials realised Matthew was a primate, but their efforts to have it dismissed have failed.

The case centres around money given to Matthew by a well-wisher to safeguard his future after the animal home where he lived went bust.

Ms Stibbe and her lawyers say he should have the same rights as a child and have a guardian to help him spend it.

Ms Stibbe said: “Matthew likes watching TV and videos and playing games like any child, and can use signs and gestures to say what he wants. Of course he has the right to be recognised as an individual.”

This is the second legal action in Europe to address whether primates should be guaranteed human rights; the Socialist government in Spain has proposed a law to allow moral guardianship of great apes, akin to the care for severely disabled or comatose people.

Matthew and another chimpanzee, called Rosie, both now 26, have lived at the sanctuary since then, but when it went bankrupt, an anonymous donor gave several thousand pounds to Matthew to safeguard his future.

Dr Martin Balluch, an animal rights campaigner who instructed lawyers to file for guardianship for Ms Stibbe, said:

“We argue that chimps are part of the same genus as humans and that they also incorporate all the characteristics to justify personhood, in that they recognise and anticipate the rights and needs of other individuals.”

The court will make a decision on how to proceed once documents on Matthew’s background are provided. A move to have the case thrown out failed after expert testimony running to dozens of pages seemed to back Matthew’s rights to human status.

The experts pointed out that chimps differ from humans by only 1 per cent of their genetic material, can accept a blood transfusion and can learn and use human languages through signs or symbols – although they lack the vocal dexterity to master speech.

Not all experts agree, however. Steve Jones, a professor of genetics at the University of London, said human rights did not apply to animals, adding:

“If you start, where do you stop? Being human is unique and nothing to do with biology. Mice share 90 per cent of human DNA. Should they get 90 per cent of human rights? And plants have more DNA than humans. Chimps can’t speak, but parrots can – should they have rights too?”


[3May07, [email protected]]