Matthew Hiasl Pan may sound like a human name, but it is actually the name of a 26-year-old chimpanzee. Animal rights activists in Austria are trying to get Pan legally declared as a “person”.
The legal struggle began in February when the animal shelter, where Pan and another chimpanzee have been living for 25 years, filed for bankruptcy protection.
Both were captured when they were young in Sierra Leone and were smuggled in a crate to Austria to be used in pharmaceutical research. But customs officers intercepted the shipment and brought the chimpanzees to the shelter.
Association Against Animal Factories, based in Vienna, wanted to make sure the chimpanzees would have a home if the shelter did close. They have been campaigning to get Pan declared as a “person”, so a guardian can be appointed to look out for his interests and provide him with a home.
The activists also argue that personhood will give him the basic rights he needs to ensure he isn’t sold to someone outside Austria, where he is protected by strict animal cruelty laws.
A British woman petitioned to be declared Pan’s legal guardian in April, but a district court judge rejected the petition. The court ruled that Pan was not mentally impaired or in danger and was not in need of a guardian.
Earlier this week, a provincial judge dismissed the Association Against Animal Factories’ appeal to get Pan declared as a “person”. The court stated only a guardian could appeal, and the association has no legal standing to represent Pan.
The association said since Pan doesn’t have a guardian, that rule should not apply to their case.
A legal adviser for the group said there is legal precedence in Austria for close friends to represent those who have no immediate family, so Pan should be represented by his closest friends.
After the local courts threw out their appeal, the group said they have taken their case to the Supreme Court in Vienna.
The president of Association Against Animal Factories, Martin Balluch, said that Pan is “a being with interests”.
Balluch added: “It is astounding how all the courts try to evade the question of personhood of a chimp as much as they can. The question is: Are chimps things without interests, or persons with interests? A large section of the public does see chimps as beings with interests. We are looking forward to hear what the high court has to say on this fundamental question.”
Source: Associated Press