A New York state appeals court has ruled that chimpanzees are not entitled to the same rights as people, thwarting an advocacy group’s attempt to get primates freed from captivity.
The Nonhuman Rights Project has petitioned courts in New York state to move four chimpanzees held in confinement to a sanctuary to live out the rest of their days.
An appeals court heard the group argue in October that chimps have such similar characteristics to humans that they should be recognised as “legal persons” and given the right to liberty.
But a panel of judges in the state capital Albany on Thursday declined to enlarge the common-law definition of “person”.
“A chimpanzee is not a ‘person’ entitled to the rights and protections afforded by the writ of habeas corpus,” a written decision stated.
“Unlike human beings, chimpanzees cannot bear any legal duties, submit to societal responsibilities or be held legally accountable for their actions.
“It is this incapability to bear any legal responsibilities and societal duties that renders it inappropriate to confer upon chimpanzees the legal rights… that have been afforded to human beings.”
There was no immediate response from The Nonhuman Rights Project.
The group made its oral arguments in October after lodging an appeal on behalf of a chimpanzee called Tommy following an earlier decision from the lower courts.
It says Tommy is being held captive in solitary confinement in a “small, dank, cement cage in a dark shed in temperatures 40 degrees below his native land” in Africa.
“He is unable to do the things that are natural to chimpanzees. He cannot build a nest, socialise with others of his own kind, or forage for food,” the charity says on its website.
Last year, his owner Patrick Lavery told local newspaper Times Union that the chimp “likes being by himself” and has a television set, cable and a stereo for entertainment.