Extend Personhood Rights to Great Apes


Target: United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon

Goal: Grant basic rights to life and freedom to fellow members of the great ape family

Our great ape relatives — chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans – continue to astound researchers with their high intelligence, sense of empathy, capacity to understand language, and recognizable facial expressions. Despite their shocking similarities to humans, great apes around the world are being killed for bushmeat, illegally traded across countries to zoos and private owners, and experimented upon. Urge the United Nations to confer basic legal rights to our highly intelligent and vulnerable close relatives.

Great apes and humans share between 95% and 99.6% of our DNA. Although we haven’t shared a mutual ancestor for about six million years, humans and great apes remain remarkably similar. Unlike most species, great apes recognize their reflections in a mirror. Humans and great apes are able to communicate using facial expressions and hand gestures while some have been taught to recognize and use symbols as well as to understand and respond to basic human speech. They form family and social groups and have a great capacity for empathy. They are self-aware, they understand the passage of time as well as the concept of the future, think abstractly, and have an understanding of the physical and emotional consequences of their actions. Subjective reports from researchers compare the intelligence of great apes with that of young children.

And yet, these beautiful and sentient, but vulnerable beings are not afforded the same rights as children. Instead, they are captured, killed, and tortured for the benefit of humans. About 3,000 great apes are stolen from the wild annually, sold on the black market to zoos and to individuals as pets, taken from their families, and deprived of their societies and cultures. Their natural habitats are being destroyed at a rate of 2-5% annually. Bushmeat hunting has become standard in much of Africa as a result of war and starvation. Overall, at least 22,218 have been taken from their homes in the wild since 2005. In addition, great apes, especially chimpanzees, are often the unwilling subjects of medical testing for possible treatments to human diseases.

There are less than 500,000 great apes left in the world today and more than seven billion humans. How can we sit by while our closest relatives are being exterminated?

Through human researchers’ communications with chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans, they have determined that great apes are capable of recognizing themselves as individuals with a past, a present, and a future. What more evidence do we need that great apes should be given the same respect that we afford to humans? The Great Ape Project calls upon the United Nations to issue a Declaration on Great Apes that grants them the right to life, protects their individual liberty, and prohibits torture.

If you’ve ever looked into the eyes of a great ape or observed them interacting in social groups, you’ve most likely been struck by how recognizable they are. Their emotions, their intelligence, their thoughts are all so clearly read on their faces. It’s like looking into a slightly distorted fun house mirror or a vision of the world before humans were in it. Great apes are beautiful, highly intelligent animals that deserve our respect and our protections. Sign this petition to ask the United Nations to help our closest relatives, preserving these great species, and making the world a little less lonely for humans.


Dear Secretary-General Ki-moon,

When researchers and tourists in zoos look into the eyes of chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans, they see themselves in them. Our fellow great apes are our closest remaining relatives. They are strikingly similar to humans in so many ways from their ability to understand language and communicate using hand gestures, to their capacity for empathy, and their desire for connection. And yet, great apes are being taken from their homes, killed, illegally traded, and tortured in the name of medical research. We need to afford our closest cousins the respect and basic rights that they deserve before we are the only hominids left.

The Great Ape Project, an international organization of primatologists, anthropologists, and ethicists, has been working to establish basic rights for great apes including the right to life, the right to individual liberty, and the right to be spared from severe pain or torture. Humans have decimated the great ape population from destroying their natural habitat to eating them for bushmeat to trading them illegally and using them for medical research. It’s time for the torture and the murder to stop.

Like humans, great apes have the ability to form deep emotional attachments. They are devoted to their family groups and have their own societies. How can we as humans look our closest relatives in the eye and take away their lives, their liberties, and their happiness?

I urge you to issue a Declaration of Great Apes to ensure that our community of equals are treated with respect, and allowed the dignity and freedom from pain that we grant to humans of similar intelligence, emotional capacity, and self-awareness.


[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Ted via Flickr

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