New Zealand's Parliament has created a world first by
putting specific protection for non-human hominids, also known as great
apes, into legislation.
In passing its new Animal Welfare Act on Thursday, the
New Zealand Parliament has prohibited the use of all great apes in
research, testing, or teaching "unless such use is in the best interests
of the non-human hominid" or its species.
There are five great ape species: chimpanzees, bonobos,
gorillas, orangutans, and humans, and all are in the same genetic
"This requirement recognizes the advanced cognitive and
emotional capacity of great apes," said New Zealand's Minister for Food
and Fibre, John Luxton, who was responsible for the passage of the bill
Such recognition is based on scientific evidence that
the nonhuman great apes share not only our genes but also basic human
mental traits, such as self-awareness, intelligence and other forms of
mental insight, complex communications and social systems, and even the
ability to master some human language skills.
"New Zealand is the first country in the world to
legislate in this way," said Mr. Luxton.
The Great Ape Project-International has hailed the
groundbreaking legislation as part of the trend toward recognizing the
complex mental, social and individual realities of other animals' lives.
That trend is also evident in the explosion of interest
shown by U.S. law schools in the status of other animals, most recently
confirmed by Harvard University's decision to offer an animal law course
in the Spring of 2000.
"Ultimately, GAP would like to see the nonhuman great
apes accorded standing in legal systems throughout the world," said the
organization's vice-president, Paul Waldau. "This would permit them to
be protected by rights to life, liberty, and freedom from torture.
Additionally, we'd like to have the United Nations provide realistic
recognition and protections."
The numbers of nonhuman great apes have plummeted this
century, as free-living populations have increasingly fallen victim to
the commercial bush meat trade and deforestation. More than 3,000
individuals are held in captivity around the world. All of the nonhuman
great ape species are listed as threatened.
The Great Ape Project
P.O. Box 19492
Portland, OR 97280-0492
The Great Ape Project Homepage:
The Declaration on Great Apes:
SPECIES DNA% STATUS POP HABITAT
Bonobo 98.8 Vulnerable 50,000 Congo
Chimpanzee 98.6 Vulnerable 150,000 Central & West
Gorilla 98.1 Vulnerable 150,000 Central Africa
Orangutan 97.6 Endangered 30,000 Indonesia;
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