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Do Chimps Have Human Rights? This Lawsuit Says Yes

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Do Chimps Have Human Rights? This Lawsuit Says Yes

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As scientists have studied the chimpanzee, they’ve found more and more similarities between humans and their closest living relatives. But when it comes to the courts, chimps and humans couldn’t be more different. Chimpanzees, like other animals, are not considered persons before the law. Instead, they are considered closer to property, a thing that can be bought and sold, albeit with some oversight by the government — too rarely exercised — in the form of animal-welfare regulations.

Now a lawsuit filed on Dec. 2 in New York State seeks to fundamentally overthrow that distinction. The Nonhuman Rights Group, led by the animal-rights lawyer Steven Wise, filed papers with the state supreme court in Fulton County in New York State on Monday, asking that the courts recognize a captive chimpanzee called Tommy as a legal person with a limited right to liberty. The lawsuit seeks to remove Tommy from his owners in Gloversville, Fla., and place him in a sanctuary. The group says it plans to file additional lawsuits later this week on behalf of a chimp kept in a private home in Niagara Falls, and two other chimps owned by a research center and currently being used in experiments at Stony Brook University in New York State.

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