In a landmark decision, the New York State Supreme court has failed to grant a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a pet chimpanzee. The court ruled that while scientists may consider chimps to be cognitively similar to humans, they are not in fact humans and therefore not entitled to the same protections as Homo sapiens.
The suit was brought in December 2013 by the Nonhuman Rights Organization who sought to have Tommy, a 26 year-old chimpanzee who is being kept as a pet by a Gloversville NY couple, freed from captivity and sent to a sanctuary where he could be properly cared for. The Nonhuman Rights Project said in their petition that:
"Chimpanzees possess such complex cognitive abilities as autonomy, self-determination, self-consciousness, awareness of past, anticipation for the future and the ability to make choices; display complex emotions such as empathy; and construct diverse cultures. The possession of these characteristics is sufficient to establish common law personhood and the consequential fundamental right to bodily liberty."
The Nonhuman Rights project also argued that some non-human animals are indeed treated legally as humans such as pets who have been left large inheritances or made beneficiaries of trust funds. In addition, they stated that courts have long granted some human rights, such as free speech, to corporations.
In it's unanimous decision the court declined to extend habeas corpus to Tommy the chimpanzee and instead said that since New York law prohibits the possession of primates as pets, Tommy already has legal protection.
The Nonhuman Rights Project stated that the grounds on which the writ had been denied were "wrong" and that it plans to take Tommy's plight to the Court of Appeals. They also noted that they would be filing similar suits in two other New York jurisdictions seeking "identical relief on behalf of chimpanzees unlawfully detained."