Chimpanzees escape from Mallorca zoo: personhood and protocols

Many of you may be aware of the recent crisis that played out in Mallorca at the beginning of last week – two adult chimpanzees, called Adam (Adan) and Eve (Eva), managed to escape from their enclosure at the Sa Coma Safari Zoo on Monday, 4 May.  News stories in papers like the Daily Mail initially emphasized the risk to human life that these escapees represented, which could justify the almost immediate shooting of the female Eva; the two animals were described as having wreaked havoc while still on zoo grounds, with visitors and keepers fleeing for safety.  It seemed as if the pair had broken out of prison, and so were considered dangerous fugitives.  This is not to minimise in any way how dangerous a scared chimpanzee can be.  But the language used around this tragic situation and immediate reaction to kill rather than tranquilise provide insight into human perceptions of these apes (when uncaged).  An article from EuroWeekly describes the equally tragic death of Adam days later, who drowned in a water treatment reservoir, and includes further background on the lives of the animals as well as a poignant quote from Adam’s carer: “He is a very kind animal … I could pet him when I was feeding him and he never touched me. He was just scared.”

In the next few blog posts, I’ll explore relevant issues relating to the escape of these chimpanzees:

  • Mallorca is one of the Balearic Islands – this region of Spain granted personhood to great apes in 2007.  Later, the Spanish Parliament appeared ready to extend rights to great apes, although this has yet to become law.  The legislation and what it is supposed to mean for great apes needs some review, especially since animal rights organisations in Spain have called the chimpanzees’ living conditions deplorable.
  • What are the protocols embraced by zoos when it comes to animals that find ways out of their enclosures, and did the zoo in Mallorca follow protocol (and in fact, the state in which enclosures should be kept must also be examined – how did the animals get out in this instance and could their escape have been prevented?).  This is not to argue for the keeping of great apes in zoos, but to address the reality of great apes, and other animals, in zoos at this moment in time.
  • Was the reaction of visitors and staff justified, considering these individual primates, their emotional states and their physical capabilities?

I’ll also pick up on the developments in Steven Wise’s cases for great ape personhood, as promised, and relate them to this incident.