Legal eagles for the branch-swingers

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 February, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 February, 1999, 12:00am

Gas chambers full of frightened bunnies. Packs of wild rabbits roaming the city streets. Sidewalks strewn with mysterious brown pellets.

This is Hong Kong's future.

Predictably, the Year of the Rabbit has created a surge in baby rabbit sales.

Falling under their cuddly spell, shoppers have been snapping up the calendar bunnies and presenting them to loved ones.

But the cuddly spell breaks when the creatures grow up.

That's when rabbit reality sets in.

Lai See has owned one herself. She knows what they're like.

Rabbits are stupid. Rabbits are untrainable. Rabbits bounce around your home eating and crapping.

We give it eight weeks before the new family pet is out on its ears.

Hong Kong's more fortunate rabbits will meet a merciful end at the hands of the SPCA. But many, we suspect, will simply be tossed outside and left to fend for themselves.

Banding together, they'll be condemned to a shadowy existence, clashing with gangs of street cats at the local tipster.

Let's face it, the Chinese treat their calendar creatures shoddily.

Most end up on the dinner table.

Or in it.

We've read of places in China where live monkeys are bolted under the table, their heads protruding through a special hole.

The top of the skull is then sliced off, allowing diners to pour sauce over the brain before scooping it out with a spoon.

Not on our top 10 list of Best Ways to Exit the World.

For monkey brain enthusiasts, Lai See has this warning: If you're thinking of migrating to New Zealand, get another hobby.

Your next dinner party could end in jail.

It seems one country's hors d'oeuvre is another's human rights violation.

If a new Animal Welfare Bill passes into law, New Zealand's great apes will become the first animals in the world to win individual, fundamental rights.

Many Australians would of course argue that the monkeys over in New Zealand already have rights - not to mention jobs, houses and pet sheep.

Lai See naturally condemns such bigoted remarks, and will one day stop working them into her column.

Anyway, the monkey business was apparently spearheaded by a group called 'The Great Ape Project'.

Members argue that the animals deserve the same rights as humans because they display 'indicators of humanhood' such as intelligence, deep emotions, and self-awareness.

We feel these criteria give 'humanhood' a little too much credit.

Lai See has met numerous people who don't fulfil any of them (mostly ex-boyfriends from her football-groupie phase).

But back to New Zealand.

If the bill is passed, four species of great ape will fall under its protection.

But many believe that once legislators start monkeying with the law, it's only a matter of time before the same rights are extended to all primates.

And things could go even further.

Some fear the bill's passage would set the legal system on a slippery slope, gradually descending through the animal chain.

They point to ape advocate claims that primates deserve human rights because they are genetically similar to humans, sharing 98.5 per cent of our DNA.

Fish DNA is 40 per cent similar. So should fish have rights too? Lai See is haunted by the image of her goldfish campaigning for a bigger bowl.

Meanwhile, in the United States, the Americans are plotting an ape battle plan of their own.

Like New Zealand, the idea is to bring chimp rights into court.

But unlike New Zealand, it wouldn't require the enactment of a bill.

Instead, the Americans hope to launch a civil lawsuit involving a strategically selected chimpanzee.

Once the primate candidate is found, it will become the first non-human plaintiff to sue its oppressors for damages.

And high time too.

Lai See has derived endless entertainment from the three-ringed circus that passes for America's courtrooms. But they did need an animal act.