Konrad, R., and Geissmann, T. (2007). Menschenrechte für Gibbons? Versuche mit Menschenaffen [Human rights for gibbons? Experiments with apes]. Gibbon Journal 3: 16-22 (German text, English summary).

Menschenrechte für Gibbons?
Versuche mit Menschenaffen

Roger Konrad1 und Thomas Geissmann2

1 Gibbon Conservation Alliance, Zürich, Schweiz
E-mail: roger.konrad@hispeed.ch

2 Anthropologisches Institut, Universität Zürich-Irchel,
Winterthurerstr. 190, CH-8057 Zürich, Schweiz
E-mail: thomas.geissmann@aim.uzh.ch

Zusammenfassung: Bei Primaten und ganz besonders bei Menschenaffen sind zahlreiche Fähigkeiten und Eigenschaften nachgewiesen worden, die man bis dahin als typisch "menschlich" angesehen hat. Aus diesem Wissen ergeben sich neue Fragen zum ethisch korrekten Umgang mit Menschenaffen. Ist es vor diesem Hintergrund zum Beispiel moralisch zulässig, mit Primaten Versuche anzustellen, bei denen sie Leid, Schmerz, Stress oder Angst empfinden könnten? In den letzten Jahren haben darum die ersten Länder Verbote für Versuche mit Menschenaffen erlassen. Mit wenigen Ausnahmen beschränken sich jedoch diese Verbote auf grosse Menschenaffen und stellen die Gibbons somit zu den übrigen Primaten. Im Folgenden möchten wir die moralische Sonderstellung der Menschenaffen erläutern und die rechtliche Regelung von Primatenversuchen in der Schweiz und in ausgewählten anderen Ländern aufzeigen. Wir beleuchten dabei speziell die Situation der Gibbons und zeigen, warum eine Grenzziehung durch die Gruppe der Menschenaffen hindurch unserer Meinung nach wenig Sinn macht.

Human rights for gibbons?
Experiments with apes

Roger Konrad1 and Thomas Geissmann2

1 Gibbon Conservation Alliance, Zürich, Switzerland
E-mail: roger.konrad@hispeed.ch

2 Anthropological Institute, University Zürich-Irchel,
Winterthurerstr. 190, CH-8057 Zürich, Switzerland
E-mail: thomas.geissmann@aim.uzh.ch

Abstract: The close relatedness between humans and non-human primates in general and apes in particular is perceived by many people on an intuitive level, and has been supported in the last few decades by a wealth of scientific evidence. Many abilities, which have long been regarded as human exclusivities, have also been found in apes. These findings challenge the uniqueness of humans and raise the question of whether it remains morally acceptable to use primates in invasive experiments that risk to cause pain, stress and fear. If an individual has the mental ability to perceive its situation exactly (and possibly consciously), its suffering under experimental conditions is probably much more intense. There is strong evidence that apes possess self-awareness and have needs and interests that are particularly similar to those of humans. As a result, there is an increasing trend toward considering the knowledge of the outstanding and somewhat ěhuman-likeî mental, emotional and social abilities of apes in legal regulations of animal experiments, and some people claim that basic human rights (i.e. protection from torture) should be extended to the great apes (www.greatapeproject.org).

The facts that the mental abilities of great apes are by far the best known of all non-human primates (and probably any non-human species) and that funding has been available to raise public awareness of this knowledge probably play an important role in the increasing support for great apes. On the other hand, very little is known about the mental abilities of gibbons, and research on gibbon cognition is exceptionally rare. Our lack of knowledge on gibbon mental abilities should not lead to ignoring the wealth of biological data that clearly identify the gibbons as apes. Moreover, there is some evidence for self-recognition in gibbons, which is often considered an indication of self-awareness. In our view, it is questionable to restrict claims for special protection to the great apes while ignoring the small apes.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what recently adopted legal regulations do in several countries. A similar legal regulation also appears to be under way in Switzerland. In this country, no special regulations exist for the use of primates to date. In 2006, two federal commissions have published an ethical assessment of using primates in research. Besides ethical considerations related to the specificities of primates, they also state a number of postulations for the attention of regulatory authorities. They suggest exempting great apes from use in experiments but explicitly exclude the gibbons from this moral circle
and group them together with the monkeys.

Very similar considerations are also made in the current debate on new regulations for animal experiments in the European Union (EU). The United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and New Zealand have already banned experiments with great apes. To our knowledge, there are only two countries worldwide, namely Sweden and Austria, that have included the gibbons in such a ban, hence adopting the biologically unquestioned grouping of gibbons with the great apes.

Although gibbons are rarely used in laboratory experiments because their slow life history and their monogamous social structure makes it difficult to reproduce them in large quantities in captivity, these legal decisions in Sweden and Austria are still of ideological importance. The level of protection that a non-human species obtains in the law reflects its moral status in human society. We are not criticising an expansion of the moral circle to include great apes. In our view, however, a restriction of this protection to the great apes is largely driven by an imbalance in scientific knowledge and public awareness. This should not keep us from acknowledging the gibbons as true apes and from granting them the same legal protection.

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