An animal rights group is asking New York courts to recognize scientific evidence of emotional and cognitive abilities in chimpanzees and to grant the animals "legal personhood" so that they are ensured better treatment.
Nonhuman Rights Project, a nonprofit founded in 2007 by Massachusetts lawyer Steven Wise, filed a lawsuit on Tuesday in Niagara Falls on behalf of Kiko, who lives in a cage in a brick building of the nonprofit Primate Sanctuary in the Falls. Owners Carmen and Christie Presti are working to move Kiko and other monkeys they care for to a new facility on a large property in Wilson.
The suits ask the courts to declare that the chimps are not things to be possessed and caged by people and should be released from "illegal detention."
The group is seeking an order, on behalf of four chimps, for their release to a sanctuary that is a member of the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance, to live out their lives with other primates in a natural outdoor setting.
"In this case, we are claiming that chimpanzees are autonomous," Wise said. "That is, being able to self-determine, be self-aware, and be able to choose how to live their own lives."
Wise said he doesn't expect the decisions to be favorable because the judges have no legal precedent to rely on.
But he added: "We'll take it to the Appellate Division and then the state Court of Appeals. We've been preparing for lawsuits for many years. These are the first in a long series of suits."
The national group says it is dedicated to changing the common law status of some species other than humans. The group's board of directors includes Wise and chimpanzee research pioneer Jane Goodall.