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Chimpanzee personhood effort fails first legal tests in New York

By Kevin Conlon, CNN
updated 8:04 AM EST, Tue December 10, 2013
Chimps don't have the same rights as people, New York courts said.
Chimps don't have the same rights as people, New York courts said.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Three lawsuits to declare four chimpanzees "legal persons" rejected by courts
  • The Nonhuman Rights Project says Tommy, Kiko, Hercules and Leo deserve "bodily liberty"
  • Tommy's owner says the chimp is not held in a prison, calls lawsuit "ridiculous"
  • Rights group says it will appeal, file suits for other "self-aware" animals

(CNN) -- Three New York courts have rejected one group's legal effort to grant captive chimpanzees in that state the same rights as a "legal person."

The Nonhuman Rights Project filed three separate suits on behalf of four chimpanzees in New York state last week in a bid to secure for Tommy, Kiko, Hercules and Leo -- all male chimps held in various parts of the state -- the "right to bodily liberty."

The lawsuits asked that the four chimpanzees be moved to a sanctuary "where they can live out their days with others of their kind in an environment as close to the wild as is possible in North America," the group said.

The group says it will appeal the courts' decisions.

"These outcomes allow the NhRP to proceed to the appellate courts," NhRP spokeswoman Stacey Doss told CNN.

Are we really different from animals?

NhRP founder and President Steven Wise said before the suits were filed that he would "be asking judges to recognize, for the first time, that these cognitively complex, autonomous beings have the basic legal right to not be imprisoned."

Tommy's owner, Pat Levery, dismissed the notion that he confines the 26-year-old chimp to a prison. Tommy lives in a cage on a trailer lot in Gloversville, New York.

"Totally ridiculous" he said of the lawsuit, which he has not read.

"I'd be happy to show you Tommy's home, to show you how well he is cared for," Levery said.

When reached by CNN Monday, he did not know the suit had been rejected.

He said that he was relieved and that he had assumed the lawsuit would not proceed.

The owners of Kiko, Hercules and Leo could not be reached Monday night.

The group said it plans to file more lawsuits across the country on behalf of captive animals "who are scientifically proven to be self-aware and autonomous," such as elephants, dolphins and whales.

Morality: It's not just for humans

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