Aping their betters? US animal rights group seeks human rights for chimpanzees - Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 5 December
Animal rights activists campaign for chimpanzees’ personhood//Chimps are people too//Habeas Corpus for monkeys//Animal abuse and captivity//Cruelty to animals//Chimpanzees kept in poor conditions may be granted vital rights//Law suits about animal rights//
Aping their betters? US animal rights group seeks human rights for chimpanzees
Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 5 December
By David Harrison
His name is Tommy. He’s a chimpanzee who lives in a cage in New York. But is he also a person?
An animal rights group claims that he is, and they are not monkeying around. The non-profit Nonhuman Rights Project has filed what is said to be the first lawsuit seeking to establish the “legal personhood” of chimpanzees.
The US group has asked a New York state court to declare 26-year-old Tommy “a cognitively complex autonomous legal person with the fundamental legal right not to be imprisoned”. The lawsuit seeks a declaration that Tommy's “detention” in a “small, dank, cement cage in a cavernous dark shed” in central New York is unlawful. The campaigners are demanding that he be released immediately to a primate sanctuary.
Chimpanzees are humans’ closest living relatives. They share 94 per cent of our DNA, and we have common ancestors from 4 to 6 million years ago, according to scientists.
Steven Wise, the group’s president, says that Tommy’s case for “personhood” is strong. “Chimpanzees possess complex cognitive abilities that are so strictly protected in human beings. There's no reason why they should not be protected when they're found in chimpanzees.”
Tommy’s lawsuit is one of three the group is filing on behalf of four chimps in New York state this week. The others are for Kiko, also 26, who lives on a private property in Niagara Falls, and Hercules and Leo, two young male chimps used in research at Stony Brook University on Long Island.
Mr Wise visited Tommy in October after reading about exotic animals kept at Patrick and Diane Lavery’s used trailer lot in Gloversville, New York. He said that Tommy hardly moved and looked “terrible” and “depressed”.
Professor David Favre, an animal law expert at Michigan State University College of Law, said that the petition was the first filed for an animal under habeas corpus, the centuries-old right in English law to challenge unlawful detention.
“The focus here is whether a chimpanzee is a ‘person’ that has access to these laws,” he said.
1. Why do people fight for animal rights?
2. Should humans be allowed to keep chimpanzees in captivity? What about other animals?
3. Who will benefit from chimpanzees having more rights? Who won’t benefit?
4. Many people feel that we should fight for the rights of oppressed humans before we fight for the rights of animals. Where do you stand on this issue?
- Learn the basics of the writ of Habeas Corpus with this simple podcast and quiz resource.
- Explore the moral and ethical dilemmas surrounding animal rights over six lessons.
- ARKive brings you an excellent lesson on the communication habits of different animals.
- Use these arguments as a basis for a persuasive letter writing activity about the ethics of zoos.
Further news resources
- Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.
- Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.
- A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.
- Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.
- A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.
In the news this week
Japanese scientists shoot for the moon in ambitious solar-energy plan
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It could easily be the plot from a Hollywood blockbuster but the series of mysterious online code-breaking challenges known as Cicada 3301 is a very real phenomenon.
For many newspapers, it has become a story that they want to keep alive; England's education secretary Michael Gove has continued his spat with media mogul Simon Cowell, creator of The X Factor, labelling him the "principal prophet" of the cult of celebrity that is damaging children's life chances.