Steve Wise is a quirky lawyer known for his high profile cases regarding animals their personhood rights who has been on the job almost 25 years. Now, he is heading to the NY Supreme Court to argue that his two clients, chimpanzees Kiko and Tommy, should be afforded the rights of “personhood.”
“‘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.”
Wise argues that the chimps, each locked in confinement are being destroyed mentally, the same as humans who are locked in solitary confinement in prison.
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Tommy, believed to be in his late 30s, is owned by Patrick Lavery. The chimpanzee lives in a cage of cement and green-painted steel behind Circle L Trailer Sales in Gloversville, New York, according to the Albany Times Union.
In 2013, Lavery told the Times Union that Tommy, although he was living without companionship, had enrichment in the form of television, cable and radio.
“To treat them as things destroys them,” Wise said. “The same way we would be destroyed in solitary confinement.”
In the 2016 HBO documentary “Unlocking the Cage,” which documents Wise’s fight to file habeas corpus petitions on behalf of chimpanzees in New York, Lavery is seen telling Wise he wants Tommy to be sent to a Florida farm because the ape is “lonely.” Wise later argues that the Florida farm is not a suitable environment for Tommy.
Kiko, believed to be in his early 30s, is a former animal actor, who was beaten so badly by his trainers, he’s partially deaf, according to Nonhuman Rights Project.
The chimpanzee now lives in the Primate Sanctuary in Niagara Falls, New York, which is operated by Carmen and Christie Presti. Nonhuman Rights Project alleges the sanctuary is run out of the Presti’s home, and the animals aren’t in a natural environment.
The Prestis and Lavery did not immediately respond to a request for comment made by NBC News.
A case about rights, not welfare
Although Wise and Schneider said the chimpanzees aren’t being kept in ideal conditions, they’re not alleging their owners have done anything wrong.
In fact, they said everything the Prestis and Lavery have done is entirely legal.
“We specifically say we are not alleging [the Prestis or Lavery] have violated any local, state or federal law,” Wise said. “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, we’re trying to protect rights.”