London, May 22 : Austrian animal rights activists are fighting to get a 26-year-old chimpanzee legally declared as a "person" so the animal can enjoy "human rights".
Paula Stibbe, a British woman, is leading the court challenge and the appeal has been filed with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.
The activists want the European Court to declare that the ape - who they have given the name 'Matthew Hiasl Pan' to make him sound "more human" - legally declared a person so she can be appointed his guardian.
Stibbe wants the declaration so she can take care of the chimp if the bankrupt animal sanctuary in Voesendorf, south of Vienna, where he currently lives, is forced to close.
The European Court of Human Rights case comes after Austria's Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling against the group - known as the Association Against Animal Factories - who wanted a trustee appointed for Matthew so Stibbe could look after him using money pledged by a benefactor. The court ruled the chimp was neither mentally impaired nor in danger, which are the legal grounds required for a guardian to be appointed.
"We appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, because everybody is entitled to a fair trial, even chimps," the Telegraph quoted Martin Balluch, the group's president, as saying.
He said humans and chimps had so much DNA in common, that the court should declare Matthew a person.
"This question is of paramount importance," said Balluch, who said he would use expert opinions from prominent scientists, anthropologists, lawyers and philosophers in the case.
Balluch said activists wanted to ensure the ape, which was captured as an infant in Sierra Leone in 1982 and smuggled to Austria for use in pharmaceutical experiments, is cared for if the shelter was closed.