In a series of lawsuits, a rights group is asking a judge this week to free four chimpanzees held in captivity in New York. And if they're successful, it could mark the first time chimps are recognized not as property, but legal persons under U.S. law.
On Monday (Dec. 2), the Nonhuman Rights Project asked the State Supreme Court for writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a chimpanzee named Tommy, who is "being held captive in a cage in a shed at a used trailer lot" in Gloversville, N.Y., according to the group's website. (A writ of habeas corpus, which traces its origins back to the Magna Carta, is intended to protect people from unlawful detention.)
"This petition asks this court to issue a writ recognizing that Tommy is not a legal thing to be possessed by respondents, but rather is a cognitively complex autonomous legal person with the fundamental legal right not to be imprisoned," the court filing reads, according to The New York Times.
The Nonhuman Rights Project said it is also filing suits this week on behalf of Kiko, a deaf chimpanzee living in private home in Niagara Falls, and Hercules and Leo, a pair thought to be used in locomotion research at Stony Brook University. The group wants the primates to be moved to a sanctuary that mimics their wild habitat as closely as possible.
Animal rights groups have seen some recent successes with regard to chimpanzees, our closest living relatives. Earlier this year, a government panel ruled that the majority of chimpanzees used for medical research in the United States should be retired and moved to sanctuaries.