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Madrid - Spain's governing Socialist Party is promoting a controversial parliamentary initiative to grant rights to great apes on the basis of their resemblance to humans, news reports said on Wednesday.
If the initiative is approved, it would make Spain one of the first countries to officially protect the rights of apes, said a spokesperson for the animal rights association Adda.
The socialists want to prohibit the "enslaving" of gorillas, chimpanzees, orang-utangs and bonobos.
Spain would thus adhere to the international Great Ape Project, granting the animals the rights to life and freedom and to not being tortured.
"We are not talking about granting human rights to great apes," but about "protecting (their) habitat, avoiding their ill-treatment and their use in various circus activities," environment minister Cristina Narbona explained.
Apes are kept in small cages in Spanish zoos and circuses, reports said. They may be castrated, and their vocal cords are sometimes cut to keep them quiet. About 70 universities have backed the move.
Apes share 99 percent of their genetic material with humans. Champions of their rights say they have an emotional and cultural life, intelligence and moral qualities like those of humans.
However, Pamplona archbishop Fernando Sebastian called it "ridiculous", while Amnesty International representative Delia Padron expressed "surprise" by moves to recognise apes' "human rights". - Sapa-DPA