Animal rights advocates are appealing to the European Court of Human Rights to declare a 26-year-old chimpanzee named Matthew to be a legal person.
British teacher Paula Stibbe and activists with the Vienna-based Association Against Animal Factories want to declare Matthew a person so that Stibbe may be appointed his legal guardian if the bankrupt animal sanctuary where Matthew lives in Vienna shuts down, the Evening Standard says.
Matthew lives with another chimpanzee and a crocodile in an animal shelter. The shelter requires about $8,000 each month in expenses. While donors have sought to support Matthew, under Austrian law only humans may receive personal gifts.
Austrian law also limits legal guardianship to humans.
Austria’s Supreme Court has upheld a lower court ruling rejecting the activists’ request to have a trustee appointed for Matthew. The lower court ruled that the animal was neither mentally impaired nor in danger.
“Everybody who knows him personally will see him as a person,” said the 36-year-old Stibbe, who was born in England but lives in Vienna.
“In his home in the African jungle, he would have been well able to look after himself without a guardian. But since he was abducted into an alien environment, traumatized and locked up in an enclosure, it did become necessary for me to act on his behalf to secure the donation money for him and to avoid his deportation.”
“Since he has no close relatives, I am doing this as the person closest to him,” she said, according to the Evening Standard.
Matthew’s supporters argue that only legal personhood will ensure he is not sold to someone outside Austria, where he is protected by the country’s strict animal cruelty laws.
Eberhart Theuer, chief legal adviser for the Association Against Animal Factories, advocated on behalf of the chimpanzee, saying, “His life depends on this decision. This case is about the fundamental question: Who is the bearer of human rights? Who is a person according to the European Human Rights Charter?”
A spokesman for the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg said the application regarding the chimpanzee will first be considered by a magistrate and a lawyer before it is decided whether his cause deserves a full hearing.