On March 16th, Steven Wise will be presenting oral arguments in the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Judicial Department in Manhattan on behalf of Tommy and Kiko, two chimpanzees who appeared in movies in the 1980s and are now living in New York State in questionable conditions.
Tommy is in a concrete cell at the back of a trailer lot in upstate New York, and Kiko is in a concrete storefront operated out of a private home in Niagara Falls.
According to NhRP, Tommy has frequently been left with a small TV set as his only stimulation; Kiko has been photographed with a makeshift leash made of a padlock and chain around his neck.
Both animals, kept in cages, are being deprived the natural habitats and socialization that chimps, known to thrive in large and organized societies, require.
Chimpanzees are great apes (not monkeys) who are native to the continent of Africa. If you ever wonder if you are looking at an ape or a monkey, look for a tail. Monkeys have tails, apes: chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans, gibbons, and humans –do not. Along with bonobos, chimpanzees are our closest living relatives. We share approximately 98% of our DNA with chimps, so it’s fair to say that we are 98% chimpanzee, and chimps are 98% human. (Chimpanzees are an endangered species. P.S. If you're surprised to hear me refer to humans as being part of the 'great apes' family, then you shouldn't be reading this blog in the first place!)Rather than attempt to sue or criminalize the chimps’ owners for cruelty, Wise is using a writ of habeus corpus to argue that these animals are being held against their rights as autonomous beings—autonomy being a “supreme common law value” recognized by the courts, as Wise explained.
“Scientifically speaking, autonomous beings have the capacity to freely choose how to live their lives. They are not cabined by instinct,” Wise told Gizmodo.
He believes Tommy and Kiko should be released to true sanctuaries, with living conditions more akin to the jungles chimpanzees are native to, and importantly, other chimpanzees to socialize with.
While nonhuman entities like corporations have, in the past, been named persons in the eyes of the law, Wise is the first to seek person-hood status for nonhuman animals in a U.S. court. And if it can happen once, the door will be open to recognizing person-hood in other cases of animal cruelty.
Wise could set a precedent that changes the way nonhuman animals are seen in the eyes of the law forever.