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Should Great Apes Be Granted Legal Right? Research Paper


Introduction: Living Creatures and Their Indisputable Rights

The relationships between people and nature have always been complex. Whether dealing with the pollution issue, or the problem concerning the species that face the threat of extinction, people often face a dilemma, i.e., a choice between progress and nature safety. However, of all the ethical battles that people have ever had to face concerning their relationships with nature, the issue of giving the right for life to great apes seems by far the most challenging.

Thesis statement: granting hominids their basic rights is crucial

Although it is generally believed that people represent the highest evolution stage and are the only animals that have come up with the idea of flocking into societies, great apes also display the features that are characteristic of individuals, which means that subhuman primates must be granted their own indisputable rights, starting from the right to live, which is a basic right of any human being, to more specific rights, as the right for medical services for the great apes in zoos; however, the limitations of great apes are also to be taken into account, e.g., the absence of vocal apparatus, which means that there is no use in providing hominids with the right for free speech.

On Behalf of the Great Apes: The Evidence for a Conscious Behavior

To start with, it is necessary to keep in mind that both people and great apes belong to the same subclass of Hominidea, which means that there is much more in common between people and apes than the former might want to acknowledge.

Another argument in favor of passing a law that will grant apes their indisputable rights is the fact that in some states, the given idea has already been put into practice. For example, in Spain, the law that guarantees apes the same basic rights as people have, i.e., the right for life, and prohibits slaughtering apes for any purpose, whether for sport or for art, has already been accepted (Glendining), which means that the social and conscious nature of apes has been finally recognized.

A very important argument in favor of granting great apes with legal rights concerns the specifics of the given animals’ behavior. According of the recent researches, chimps and other apes have a very complex social structure based on a specific hierarchy and interactions between the members of the “society”:

The emergent status hierarchy is thought to be a fundamental part of the structure of chimpanzee groups. Males who succeed in dominating most or all of the other group-members, and so achieve high status, are thought to have improved mating success by being able, at least in part, to monopolise access to cycling females. (Newton-Fisher 82)

Hence, apes display great similarities with people in terms of their social life.

Finally, referring to the ethical aspect of the issue, it is necessary to admit that apes are the only animals that bear indisputable similarities with people in terms of appearance and display the ability to walk on two limbs. While other species might also have one of the given characteristics (e.g., kangaroos walk on two legs – or jump on them, if you will – as well), there is none that combines the two. Therefore, even thought the link between present-day apes and people is no longer in existence, it is still clear that there is something in common between the two. The fact that apes and people have a common ancestor, in its turn, leads to the conclusion that apes should be treated if not on par with people, then at least with more dignity than the rest of the animals.

That said, one has to admit that the idea of giving apes the rights that people have, e.g., the right to live, is a very reasonable suggestion. Even though people have a long and proud history of killing each other (which the WWI and WWII are graphic examples of), there are no laws that allow to kill people for one’s own amusement or to deprive one of life based on long-lasting enmity. Even criminals who have killed several other people still live in many states of the USA and the world, since in most countries, death penalty is banned from the entire legal system (Deen). Apes, on the contrary, are known to resort to murder only when their own life is in peril; therefore, as relatively peaceful creatures, they should be granted the privilege of not being hunted as other animals are.

What Humans Have to Say: Abstract Thinking and the Ultimate Proof Against Apes’ Intelligence

Since the key argument of the law that prohibits to kill apes for either hunting purposes or for one’s own amusement is that apes bear distinct similarities with the human race, roving the opposite might cancel the whole idea. In fact, it is rather far-fetched to believe that apes and people have much in common. Analyzing some of the physiological and anthropological properties of both species, such as the ability to think abstractly, one can come to rather unexpected conclusions.

Despite all the existing evidence proving that apes are conscious beings that are able to form their own societies and display considerable similarities with people, believing that abstract thinking skills make the only gap between the two would still be quite a stretch. There are several major arguments against granting apes with the rights that people are supposed to have, and these arguments need revisiting.

The issue of morals should also be brought up. Unlike people, apes do not have any idea of morals, which means that they are beasts, even though social ones. Since passing the law presupposes that murdering an ape will be legally equal to a crime, even the one performed as an act of self-defense, people and apes are going to be on the same level legally, which is technically unethical, with apes’ absence of moral standards.

Finally, the very fact that apes will not be able to appreciate the changes in the legal system should be mentioned. Therefore, the reform appears to be made by people and for people under the guise of humaneness. To sum up, there is still a huge gap between people and apes, which makes the idea of giving apes the rights and freedoms that people enjoy unreasonable and redundant.

Let the Fight for Hominids’ Rights Commence: Pride and Prejudice

While apes can be viewed as very dangerous and hardly controllable beasts, most of the sources claim that hominids are social animals with high rates of intellect, in contrast to the rest of the fauna. In addition, apes cannot be considered as a source of food or specific materials (fur/leather). Finally, the common ancestor of people and apes makes killing the latter similar to slaughtering one’s own kind. Therefore, the law that prohibits violence towards great apes is reasonable enough to be adopted worldwide. The issue concerning running tests on chimps and other types of great apes is still a question, however, since there seems to be no alternative. However, prohibiting murders of apes still seems the best foot forward in solving the conflict concerning nature vs. nurture. As long as there are the laws that allow murder of innocent creatures, the distinction between people and animals will, indeed, be blurred. Only recognizing the rights of other creatures to be treated with dignity, people will be able to reconcile with nature and with their own selves..

Conclusion: When Evolution Starts Getting out of a Dead End

Although there is a huge difference between people and hominids not only in terms of body structure, but also in terms of intellect and abstract thinking, great apes should still be provided with their indefeasible rights. One might say that great apes have not reached the level of development that requires the acknowledgement of certain rights and freedoms; however, the very fact that grand apes are able to create mini-societies that are rather accurate representations of the primitive society speaks for itself. While there is no need to provide great apes with all the rights that people have, mostly because of the biological restrictions of the former, such as inability to speak, it is still necessary to admit the hominids’ right to live.

Works Cited

Deen, Thalif. Politics: Death Penalty Threatens to Split World Body. Montevideo, Uruguay: Inter Press Service. 2007. Print.

Glendining, Lee. The Guardian 2008. Web.

Newton-Fisher, Nicolas E. “Hierarchy and Social Status in Bugondo chimpanzees.” Primates 45.2 (2004): 81–87.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Should Great Apes Be Granted Legal Right?" May 21, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/should-great-apes-be-granted-legal-right/.

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