The question of whether an ape should have ‘personhood’ rights has made its way to the appellate division of New York‘s Supreme Court.
On Thursday, animal rights lawyer Steve Wise will argue before Manhattan’s appellate court that his clients, chimpanzees Kiko and Tommy, should be considered ‘persons’ rather than ‘things.’
Corporations and ships are among non-human entities that have been awarded ‘personhood’ rights.
Tommy the chimpanzee was previously kept in a steel and cement cage with a TV for entertainment and is now believed to be held in a Michigan zoo. His legal representative, animal rights lawyer Steve Wise, is arguing he deserves ‘personhood’ rights
Wise told NBC News: ‘A “person” is the law’s way of saying that entity has the capacity for rights. A “thing,” which chimpanzees are now, don’t have capacity for any kind of rights.’
He added: ‘To treat them as things destroys them.’
Wise, who founded advocacy group the Nonhuman Rights Project, has fought for the chimpanzees since 2013 and was profiled in a 2016 documentary, ‘Unlocking the Cage,’ which debuted on HBO in February.
He has used habeas corpus, or the right to be brought before a court if in jail or ‘detention,’ as an argument to free chimpanzees, considered autonomous, from potentially unjust confinement.
Tommy was previously owned by Patrick Lavery, who had kept him in a cage of cement and steel in an upstate New York trailer lot with a TV for entertainment, which Lavery previously said was a form of ‘enrichment.’
When animal rights activists found him in the care of Lavery, they asked for him to be transferred to a reputable animal sanctuary.
Lavery refused, prompting the NHRP to launch a landmark 2013 lawsuit claiming he was being unlawfully detained that was eventually dismissed by Albany’s appellate court on procedural grounds.
In the documentary film, Lavery tells Wise that Tommy is ‘lonely’ and should live on a farm in Florida, which Wise does not believe would be a good environment for him.
Paperwork obtained by Daily Mail Online suggested the chimpanzee was ‘donated’ to the DeYoung Family Zoo in Michigan’s remote Upper Peninsula in September 2015.
The roadside attraction is owned by Bud DeYoung and his younger partner Carrie Cramer, whose eccentric lifestyle and passion for wildlife earned them their own short-lived reality TV show, My Life is a Zoo, on National Geographic Wild.
But when Daily Mail Online visited last summer there was no sign of Tommy and neither DeYoung nor Cramer were prepared to answer any questions or talk about the chimp’s wellbeing.
Tommy, believed to be in his late 30s or early 40s, played Matthew Broderick’s simian sidekick in the hit 1987 movie Project X.
Kiko is kept by Carmen and Christie Presti in their Niagara Falls-located Primate Sanctuary, which Nonhuman Rights Project says is run out of their home and is not a proper environment for apes.
Wise and the Project say they are not accusing either party of breaking the law.
He told NBC: ‘What we’re saying is those laws are grossly insufficient and [the chimpanzees] should have a right to bodily liberty.’
He added: ‘We’re trying to protect their rights.’
Scientists such as Jane Goodall wrote an affidavit to be used in support of Wise’s argument.
His last case arguing for chimpanzees Hercules and Leo, who were used for research at Stony Brook University in New York, ruled against his cause.
But since then, a judge in Argentina became the first in the world to grant a chimpanzee named Cecelia ‘nonhuman legal person’ status.
If Wise’s case is successful, he said he would like for Tommy and Kiko to live at ‘Save the Chimps,’ a sanctuary in Florida.