Chimps are People, Too

New York Lawsuit seeks legal personhood for chimpanzees

Dec 3, 2013
Outside Magazine

   Kitch Bain /

Tommy is a 26-year-old chimpanzee and he lives in a cement cage in Gloversville, New York, about 50 miles northwest of Albany. On Monday, an animal activist group asked a New York state court to declare Tommy an "autonomous legal person with the fundamental legal right not to be imprisoned," Reuters reports.

The lawsuit seeks to give Tommy and other chimps the "fundamental right to bodily liberty," or what Steven Wise, the president of Nonhuman Rights Project, told Reuters is the basic right to be left alone and not held for entertainment or research.

The challenge: Chimpanzees and other animals are not considered persons before the law. Rather, they are considered more like property that can be bought and sold, something Wise and others hope to put an end to.

Chimps “possess complex cognitive abilities that are so strictly protected when they’re found in human beings,” Wise says. “There’s no reason why they should not be protected when they’re found in chimpanzees.”

Tommy’s case is among three the group is filing this week on behalf of four chimps across New York including 26-year-old Kiko who is caged on private property in Niagara Falls and Hercules and Leo who are used in research at Stony Brook University on Long Island.

"These are the first cases in an open-ended, strategic litigation campaign," Wise says. "We're just going to keep filing suits."

David Favre, a professor at Michigan State University College of Law and seasoned animal law expert told Reuters that the case is the first habeas petition filed on behalf of an animal.

"The focus here is whether a chimpanzee is a 'person' that has access to these laws," Favre says.

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