Lawyer heads to court insisting ‘Apes are people, too’

“To treat them as things destroys them”

A veteran animal rights lawyer is set to argue that his chimpanzee clients deserve some of the same rights as humans.

Steve Wise, who founded the Nonhuman Rights Project, will argue before the Supreme Court of the State of New York on Thursday that the primates should be recognized as autonomous beings and afforded the appropriate legal protections.

“‘Personhood’ is not synonymous with ‘humans.’ It is not now and never has been,” Wise told NBC News. “A ‘person’ is the law’s way of saying that entity has the capacity for rights. A ‘thing,’ which chimpanzees are now, don’t have capacity for any kind of rights.”

According to NBC News, Wise represents two chimpanzees he believes are being deprived of their rights, and has argued that the animals possess consciousness. One, Tommy, is being kept in a metal cage behind a trailer lot in  Gloversville, New York, and does not have any regular human or animal companionship.

“To treat them as things destroys them,” Wise told NBC News. “The same way we would be destroyed in solitary confinement.”

Wise has also been advocating for the chimpanzee Kiko, a former animal actor who he says is now partially deaf because his previous trainers allegedly beat him. Kiko is now living at the Primate Sanctuary in Niagara Falls, New York. Wise has reportedly argued that it is not a proper sanctuary as it is run out of its owners’ home and is not a natural environment. But Wise is not accusing the owners, Carmen and Christie Presti, of doing anything illegal.

“We specifically say we are not alleging [the Prestis or Lavery] have violated any local, state or federal law,” Wise told NBC News. “What we’re saying is those laws are grossly insufficient and [the chimpanzees] should have right to bodily liberty.

“We’re not trying to protect their welfare,” he said. “We’re trying to protect rights.”

Wise has the support of famous animal activist Jane Goodall, who was part of a group of activists and experts who filed an affidavit on behalf of Tommy and Kiko.

The lawyer hopes that if successful, the chimpanzees can be relocated to the Save the Chimps sanctuary in Fort Pierce, Florida.


Photo: Associated Press