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Do chimpanzees have the right to life?




In a referendum on Sunday, people in the Swiss canton of Basel voted against giving non-human primates the right to life and physical and mental integrity.

Almost 75% rejected a plan to give non-human primates similar rights to humans.

It was a contentious referendum, as referendums often are. But in this specific case the question of whether non-human primates should be given or deserve basic rights, such as human rights, was contentious because of where it took place.

Basel is the third-most populous city in Switzerland. It is also home to two large, international pharmaceutical companies, Roche and Novartis. Both have used animals in their research to develop drugs.

Neither company current works with primates, and as private companies, Roche and Novartis would have been exempt from any local law on basic rights for primates. It would only have applied to public institutions, such as hospitals and the university in town.

A world first

“It’s the first time, globally, that an electorate got to vote on whether non-human primates should have basic rights,” said Tamina Graber, head of the campaign for primates’ rights at Sentience, the group that initiated the Basel referendum.

Speaking before the vote, Graber told DW they hoped that other cantons in Switzerland and indeed other countries would also “consider whether we humans are the only ones who can have rights.”

Switzerland’s animal welfare law aims to “protect the dignity and welfare of animals.” But Graber said it does not offer sufficient protection to animals.

The law, Graber said, places the interest of humans, no matter how small, over the interests of non-human primates, no matter how big.

That’s why they are campaigning for more fundamental rights — specifically for non-human primates, apes, such as chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans.

“They are our closest relatives. We know the most about what they want,” said Graber. “Science has taught us that they want to live, that they plan for the future and that they want to remain physically and mentally unharmed.”

‘Animals experience feelings’

Switzerland is not the only country where animal rights have been in the news lately.

The UK government introduced an Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill in 2021, which is still passing through Parliament. But with it, the UK would formally recognize animals as sentient beings.

That means that “any new legislation [would] have to take into account the fact that animals can experience feelings such as pain or joy,” the government wrote in a press release last year.

The measures would stop most live animal exports and stop people from keeping primates as pets. But it would not ban animal testing.

A ban on animal testing would have disastrous consequences, said Understanding Animal Research, a British nongovernmental organization that says it advocates for the humane use of animals in research.

“A ban on using animals in research would remove the only way of deriving information that’s vital for medical, veterinary and environmental science,” said Chris Magee, the organization’s head of policy and media.

It’s not just about avoiding suffering

As for the situation in Germany, some say there’s a problem with implementing the law.

Karsten Brensing, a biologist and behavioral scientist, said Germany’s animal welfare laws are good.

But he said people don’t fully adhere to the laws, such as in providing ethical practices in animal farming, known as husbandry.  

“Biologically, adequate husbandry isn’t just about avoiding pain and suffering for the animals,” said Brensing. “It’s about actively ensuring that the animals have joy in their lives.”

Studies on empathy in animals

Brensing said the initiative for primates’ basic rights in Switzerland is “fully reasonable, scientifically speaking.”

Primates have a sense of self, he said — they exhibit cognitive abilities, such as logical thinking, and they display empathy. Other animals, such as rodents, have also demonstrated care for one another.

For example, in one study, rats were given the choice of either freeing other rats from a cage or getting a chocolate treat. And the results seemed to suggest that the rats preferred helping others than treating themselves. They were even observed cuddling each other after the caged rats were freed.

“They do experience empathy,” said Brensing. “And if rats have that, primates definitely have it, too.”

A white rat

Rats are willing to give up sweet treats in order to free other rats

Human vs. animal experiences

Some researchers question whether animals truly experience empathy or whether our observations are a case of researchers transferring their own human experiences and emotional needs onto non-human animals.

Peter Kunzmann, a professor of ethics in veterinary medicine, said it’s dangerous to ascribe rights to animals based on human attributes.

Kunzmann, who teaches at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hannover, is against initiatives like the one started by Sentience in Basel.

“I am a big defender of the principle of human dignity and of the concept that there are certain things humans deserve by sheer virtue of being human,” said  Kunzmann. “And I get very, very concerned when there are attempts to dilute this. Humans have rights and dignity simply because they are human.”

Sentience said it’s not calling for human rights as they apply to people, “but fundamental rights adjusted for non-human primates.”

But he remains concerned.

“If you’re consistent with this, a number of people would lose the status that grants them rights,” said Kunzmann. “Newborns would have different rights from adults because they [lack] intelligence and don’t have plans for the future yet. Mentally ill people could lose their rights, dementia patients would lose them, people in a coma would, too.”

Kunzmann does, however, believe that animals deserve to be treated in a respectful way.

Edited by: Zulfikar Abbany




Indian lunar orbiter hit by heat rise




NEW DELHI, India (CNN) — Scientists have switched off several on-board instruments to halt rising temperatures inside India’s first unmanned lunar spacecraft.

For India the $80 million mission puts the country on the inside track of a fast-developing Asian space race.

The spacecraft carrying India’s first lunar probe, Chandrayaan-1, lifts off from Sriharikota.

Mylswamy Annadurai, the project director for the lunar mission, told CNN that temperatures onboard Chandrayaan-1 had risen to 49 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit).

The increase occurred as the craft, the moon — which it is orbiting — and the sun lined up, a phenomenon which Annadurai said was not unexpected and which would likely last until the end of December.

“We have switched off the systems (aboard) that are not needed to be on,” Annadurai said, ruling out the possibility of damage and adding that the temperature was now down to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).

Heat on board the Chandrayaan-1 should not exceed 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit), Annadurai said — but insisted the orbiter is designed to withstand up to 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit).

The Chandrayaan-1 — Chandrayaan means “moon craft” in Sanskrit — was successfully launched from southern India on October 22. VideoWatch the launch of India’s first lunar mission »

Its two-year mission is to take high-resolution, three-dimensional images of the moon’s surface, especially the permanently shadowed polar regions. It also will search for evidence of water or ice and attempt to identify the chemical composition of certain lunar rocks, the group said.

Earlier this month the Moon Impact Probe detached from Chandrayaan-1 and successfully crash-landed on the moon’s surface.

Officials say that the TV-size probe, which is adorned with a painting of the Indian flag, hit the moon’s surface at a speed of 5,760 kilometers per hour (3,579 mph).


It transmitted data to Chandrayaan-1 ahead of impact but was not intended to be retrieved after that.

Chandrayaan-1 is carrying payloads from the United States, the European Union and Bulgaria. India plans to share the data from the mission with other programs, including NASA.

All About India • NASA


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Inspiration for 'Contact' still listening




From a remote valley in Northern California, Jill Tarter is listening to the universe.


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Shuttle lands at California air base




(CNN) — Space shuttle Endeavour landed safely Sunday afternoon at California’s Edwards Air Force Base after NASA waved off two opportunities for a Florida landing because of poor weather.

NASA opted to land the shuttle in California on Sunday, because of bad weather at Kennedy Space Center.

Endeavour glides in for a landing Sunday at California’s Edwards Air Force Base.

The shuttle, steered by commander Christopher Ferguson, landed at 1:25 p.m., ending a mission that lasted more than two weeks.

Wind, rain and reports of thunderstorms within 30 miles of the shuttle landing facility at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center prompted NASA to cancel the landing attempts there. Those had been scheduled for 1:19 p.m. and 2:54 p.m. ET.

After determining Monday’s weather forecast at Kennedy Space Center was equally unpromising, flight controllers decided they would try to land the shuttle and its seven astronauts at Edwards AFB, about 100 miles from Los Angeles, California, where Sunday’s forecast was sunny.

Flight controllers prefer landings at Kennedy Space Center because of cost and schedule. NASA has estimated it costs about $1.7 million to bring a shuttle home to Kennedy Space Center from California. VideoWatch Endeavour’s Sunday landing in California »

It also takes at least a week to get the shuttle ready for the trip, but schedule is not a major factor for the Endeavour; it is not scheduled to fly again until May.

Endeavour’s 15-day mission to the international space station began on November 14 and included four spacewalks.

During that time, the crew brought key pieces — including exercise equipment, more sleeping berths and a urine recycling system — for a project to double the capacity of the station from three in-house astronauts to six.

The recycling system was installed to turn urine and sweat from the astronauts into drinking water.

Other modules are scheduled to arrive on a February shuttle flight. The goal of expanding the station’s capacity to six astronauts is expected to be reached by the summer.

The crew also worked on a joint that helps generate power for the space station. Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper and Steve Bowen spent hours cleaning and lubricating the Solar Alpha Rotary Joint, which is designed to allow the solar panels on the left side of the station to rotate and track the sun.


The astronauts also removed and replaced several trundle bearing assemblies.

The mission went according to plan, despite a minor interruption on the first spacewalk when a grease gun in Stefanyshyn-Piper tool’s bag leaked, coating everything inside with a film of lubricant. While she was trying to clean it up, the bag — with $100,000 in tools — floated away.

CNN’s Kate Tobin and Miles O’Brien contributed to this report.

All About Space Shuttle Endeavour • NASA • Kennedy Space Center


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