Is A Chimp A "Person" Or A "Thing"?

by
Suzanne Robertson
Tommy lives in a cage in a trailer park in New York State, where he spends his time watching cartoons on TV.

A former circus chimp, 26-year-old Tommy currently lives in a cage in a trailer park in New York State. Tommy spends his time watching cartoons on TV.

He's at the center of a case being heard by a New York appeals court. The court will consider whether chimpanzees are entitled to "legal personhood" in what experts say is the first case of its kind.  Some are saying that the landmark ruling that the chimp is "unlawfully imprisoned" could affect dolphins, elephants and other animals with high intelligence

Steven Wise, a lawyer and president of the Nonhuman Rights Project, argues that Tommy is “an autonomous being, capable of thinking about his life”, and that to keep him in a cage is the equivalent of keeping a human being in solitary confinement. He wants Tommy moved to a chimp sanctuary in Florida. Wise is using a legal mechanism traditionally filed on behalf of people, usually prison inmates, who claim they have been unlawfully imprisoned.

Tommy's owner, Patrick Lavery, made the unusual move of waiving his right to make an argument in the case. Lavery claims that Tommy's "shed" is actually a state-of-the-art $150,000 facility. He also claims that the chimp has been on a waiting list for a primate sanctuary for three years.

An appeals court in Rochester in December will hear a similar case from Wise involving a chimp named Kiko. 

 

 

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