Should a captive chimpanzee have the same rights as a “legal person”? That’s the debate set to unfold after an activist group filed lawsuits on behalf of four chimpanzees, asking the New York Supreme Court to grant them the “right to bodily liberty.”
“We’ll be asking judges to recognize, for the first time, that these cognitively complex, autonomous beings have the basic legal right to not be imprisoned,” said Steven M. Wise, founder and president of the Nonhuman Rights Project.
The four chimpanzees are all held in New York state. Tommy, 26, is living in a cage on a trailer lot in Gloversville. Kiko, 26, formerly worked in the entertainment industry and is now living in Niagara Falls on private property, where he is caged. Hercules and Leo, two young males, are used in research in the Anatomy Department at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook.
“To be a ‘legal person,’ one doesn’t need to be a human being or even a biological being. A corporation is a legal person,” wrote Joyce Tischler, co-founder of the Animal Legal Defense Fund. Even if the chimpanzees don’t understand what a lawsuit is, they benefit from being directly represented, she said.