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NY Court Says Chimps Not People

— September 2, 2015

The highest court in New York refused to hear an appeal from the Nonhuman Rights Project regarding the legal personhood of Kiko & Tommy, two captive chimpanzees. Lower courts ruled against the idea that the chimps deserved basic rights, such as freedom from captivity.

In a case reminiscent of the “Blackfish” scandal, The Nonhuman Rights Project filed an appeal of a lower court’s ruling regarding the legal personhood of two chimpanzees, Kiko and Tommy. They didn’t get the answer they wanted as the NY court says chimps not people.

The Court of Appeals, NY’s highest court, refused to hear the appeal, effectively putting an end to the chimps’ chance at civil rights.

The Nonhuman Rights Project originally filed suit last year to get basic rights for the chimpanzees, such as freedom from imprisonment. Lower courts were not swayed by NRP’s argument that chimps possessed scientifically proven emotional and cognitive abilities that should qualify them for such protections. A mid-level court consisting of three judges unanimously rejected the idea in December saying the chimps “cannot bear any legal duties, submit to societal responsibilities or be held legally accountable for their actions.”

NRP was founded in 2007. Founder, Massachusetts lawyer Steven Wise, filed the suit on Tommy and Kiko’s behalf two years ago. At that time, he told the press, “These are the first in a long series of suits that will chip away at the legal thinghood of such non-human animals as chimpanzees.” He went on to add that, if successful, other suits could be filed to grant personhood to other autonomous species, including whales, elephants, dolphins, orangutans and gorillas.

Th04-Chimpanzee_TH_1673665eAs for the chimps themselves, Kiko was caged in a brick building at the non-profit Primate Sanctuary in Niagara Fall. Tommy was caged in a shed on a used trailer lot in Gloversville, a town 35 miles west of Albany. According to the suit, Tommy’s primary source of company was a TV. Tommy’s human owner responded that Tommy is being cared for “under strict state and federal license rules and inspections.”

Wise and the Nonhuman Rights Project are not accepting defeat. Rather, they see this as a temporary set-back. Discussions are ongoing over refiling the New York cases in other courts. Legal scholars have filed briefs pointing out conflicts and errors in the lower court rulings. NRP is also planning to sue in another state for rights for elephants.

Tommy and Kiko’s case is not the first time NRP has taken to the courts on behalf of nonhuman clients. It filed suit for Hercules and Leo, two chimpanzees held in captivity at Stony Brook University.

I can’t abide mistreating animals and am fervently against the use of animals in laboratory testing. While I applaud NRP’s efforts, I’m left wondering if its clients may not be better served by the organization lobbying Congress for stricter laws on animal treatment.

It doesn’t surprise me in the least that animal may possess emotional and cognitive abilities that bring them one step closer to us, their human cousins. If, as I believe, this is true then it’s actually criminal for us to treat these beings so poorly.

The Internet would explode if I were to expound on my solution to the problem. Torturing innocent beings in the name of medicine, entertainment and commerce is OK, but conducting “humane” experiments on those convicted of violent crimes is abhorrent. I don’t understand society.

Think about that the next time you go to a circus or buy animal-tested cosmetics.


NY Court Refuses to Hear Appeals in Chimp Personhood Case

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