Should a chimpanzee be treated as a person with legal rights?
That's what attorney Steven Wise will try to persuade a state appeals court in Manhattan today. Wise, who represents the Florida-based Nonhuman Rights Project animal advocacy group, plans to argue that two chimps named Tommy and Kiko should be freed from cages to live in an outdoor sanctuary.
Wise has been trying for years, unsuccessfully, to get courts to grant "habeas corpus" for the chimps - Latin meaning literally "you have the body" and demanding that a person be released from unlawful imprisonment.
He says the apes, which will not appear in court, deserve a better quality of life. If the court agrees, they would be sent to live with others of their species on one of 13 islands amid a lake in Fort Pierce, Florida, that comprise the Save the Chimps sanctuary.
Kiko's keeper, Carmen Presti, says no way.
He and his wife rescued the deaf chimp 23 years ago from a life of performing at state fairs and in the television movie "Tarzan in Manhattan." Kiko is believed to have lost his hearing when he was beaten by a trainer, and has medical problems requiring constant attention.
"If he's taken away, he could die without his family to give him the special care he needs, and to bring him into the house to play," says Presti, of Niagara Falls, New York, where he runs the nonprofit Primate Sanctuary whose rescue animals are part of a youth educational program.
Tommy was caged at a trailer lot in Gloversville, outside Albany, New York.
His keeper, Patrick Lavery, calls all the lawsuits "a ridiculous thing." He told The Associated Press yesterday that he had temporarily cared for Tommy to spare him from being euthanized, then donated him to an out-of-state facility in September 2015. Lavery declined to provide further details, saying he didn't want to draw more attention to the monkeys' legal drama.