Animal rights group files lawsuit to establish ‘legal personhood’ for chimpanzees
An animal rights group filed a lawsuit Monday to establish the “legal personhood” of chimpanzees.
The group, Nonhuman Rights Project, asked a New York state court to declare a 26-year-old chimp named Tommy “a cognitively complex autonomous legal person with the fundamental legal right not to be imprisoned.”
The lawsuit seeks a declaration that Tommy’s “detention” in a “small, dank, cement cage in a cavernous dark shed” in central New York is unlawful and demands his immediate release to a primate sanctuary.
Chimpanzees “possess complex cognitive abilities that are so strictly protected when they’re found in human beings,” Steven Wise, the president of Nonhuman Rights Project, told Reuters.
“There’s no reason why they should not be protected when they’re found in chimpanzees,” he added.
The lawsuit on Tommy’s behalf is among three the group is filing this week on behalf of four chimps across New York. The other chimps are Kiko, a 26-year-old chimp living on a private property in Niagara Falls, and Hercules and Leo, two young male chimps used in research at Stony Brook University on Long Island, the group said.
The Nonhuman Rights Project used its own research to find the chimps, and Wise first visited Tommy in October after reading a local newspaper article about exotic animals kept at the Laverys’ used trailer lot in Gloversville, New York, about 50 miles northwest of Albany.
The lawsuits come as medical authorities re-examine the employment of chimpanzees in research in light of new technology that renders the use of chimpanzees less necessary.
In a decision applauded by animal rights groups, the U.S. National Institutes of Health in January said it was reducing its use of chimps in biomedical research, retiring most to sanctuaries. At the time, NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins called chimps “very special animals” that deserve “special consideration.”