Spain could soon become the first country in the world to give chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans and other great apes some of the fundamental rights granted to human beings under a law being proposed by members of the ruling Socialist coalition.
The law would eliminate the concept of "ownership" for great apes, instead placing them under the "moral guardianship" of the state, much as is the case for children in care, the severely handicapped and those in comas, said the MP behind the project, Francisco Garrido.
Great apes held in Spanish zoos would be moved to state-built sanctuaries, unless there was a risk that moving them would harm their emotional welfare, he said.
The law would also make it a criminal offence to mistreat or kill a great ape, except in cases of self-defence or medical euthanasia.
As a first step, Mr Garrido, a Green MP for Seville who sits with the Socialists, will propose a resolution on the rights of great apes before the parliament’s environment committee at the end of this month. He said he expects the committee to approve the resolution which already has received the public support of ministers.
Mr Garrido said he was confident that either the government, or the ruling Socialist majority, would introduce a Great Apes Law after the summer recess.
The Roman Catholic Church has expressed concerns about his resolution.
The Archbishop of Pamplona and Tudela, Fernando Sebastian, has said that only a "ridiculous or distorted society" could propose such a law.