Captive Chimpanzee “Tommy” May Gain Freedom as Legal Person


Paws Up!
To attorney Steven Wise for representing chimpanzees in a New York Supreme Court appeal that could free imprisoned chimps.

Photo by the Nonhuman Rights Project

Photo by the Nonhuman Rights Project

According to a recent news story, a chimpanzee being held captive in New York may be freed from a life in a small cage on the premise that he is a wrongly imprisoned person. The 26-year-old chimpanzee named “Tommy” is currently living alone in a small concrete enclosure with a television set on the property of a sales lot for transport trailers near Gloversville, NY. He is being kept as a pet, and has no interaction with others of his own species. Steven Wise is the attorney representing Tommy. In October, Wise made the argument to the New York Supreme Court that Tommy, along with three other chimpanzees located elsewhere in New York, are persons being unjustly imprisoned. Recognition as a legal person would not grant Tommy and the other chimpanzees the rights and freedoms of human beings, but would grant them the basic legal right to not be imprisoned. The panel of five judges is expected to rule on the case in the coming weeks. Wise has recommended to the judges that the chimpanzees be relocated to North American Private Sanctuary Alliance located in Florida.

The designation of animals as persons is not entirely new. Last year , the national government of India recognized dolphins as ‘persons’  having their own established society and culture.  Dolphins therefore, cannot be held captive in India. Steven Wise is not representing all chimpanzees as a species, but if judges recognize Tommy’s personhood, this case could offer a legal platform to help captive chimpanzees throughout the United States.

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