New York lawsuit seeks 'legal personhood' for chimpanzees

Mon Dec 2, 2013 3:49pm EST
 
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By Bernard Vaughan and Daniel Wiessner

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. animal rights group on Monday filed what it said is the first lawsuit seeking to establish the "legal personhood" of chimpanzees.

The non-profit 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.

Tommy's owners, Patrick and Diane Lavery, and Stony university did not immediately return requests for comment. Kiko's owners could not be reached on Monday.

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.   Continued...

 
Chimpanzees enjoy the sun at Gut Aiderbichl's Sanctuary for Traumatized Chimpanzees and other Primates in Gaenserndorf, 50 kms (31 miles) northeast of Vienna, September 14, 2011. REUTERS/Herwig Prammer