New York State Appellate Court Rejects Personhood for Chimpanzees

The New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, First Judicial Department rejected an argument this month by the Nonhuman Rights Project seeking to grant personhood to captive chimpanzees. The Nonhuman Rights Project wanted the court to authorize the release of two chimpanzees owned by private companies.

The petition as to Tommy was brought in December 2015. It is alleged that Tommy, who is owned by respondents Circle L Trailer Sales, Inc. and its officers, is in a cage in a warehouse in Gloversville, New York. The petition as to Kiko was brought in January 2016. Kiko, who is owned by respondents the Primate Sanctuary, Inc. and its officers and directors, is allegedly in a cage in a cement storefront in a crowded residential area in Niagara Falls, New York.

. . .

Petitioner has filed four identical petitions in four separate state courts in four different counties in New York. Each petition was accompanied by virtually the same affidavits, all attesting to the fact that chimpanzees are intelligent, and have the ability to be trained by humans to be obedient to rules, and to fulfill certain duties and responsibilities. Petitioner has failed to present any new information or new ground not previously considered. The “new” expert testimony presented by petitioner continues to support its basic position that chimpanzees exhibit many of the same social, cognitive and linguistic capabilities as humans and therefore should be afforded some of the same fundamental rights as humans.

Any new expert testimony/affidavits cannot be said to be in response to or counter to the reasoning underlying the decision of the Court in People ex rel. Nonhuman Rights Project, Inc. v Lavery (124 AD3d at 148). In declining to extend habeas relief to chimpanzees, the Court in Lavery did not dispute the cognitive or social capabilities of chimpanzees. Nor, did it, as argued by petitioner, take judicial notice that chimpanzees cannot bear duties and responsibilities. Rather, it concluded:

“[U]nlike human beings, chimpanzees cannot bear any legal duties, submit to societal responsibilities or be held legally accountable for their actions. In our view, it is this incapability to bear any legal responsibilities and societal duties that renders it inappropriate to confer upon chimpanzees the legal rights — such as the fundamental right to liberty protected by the writ of habeas corpus — that have been afforded to human beings” (id. at 152).

. . .

The asserted cognitive and linguistic capabilities of chimpanzees do not translate to a chimpanzee’s capacity or ability, like humans, to bear legal duties, or to be held legally accountable for their actions. Petitioner does not suggest that any chimpanzee charged with a crime in New York could be deemed fit to proceed, i.e., to have the “capacity to understand the proceedings against him or to assist in his own defense” (CPL 730.10[1]). While in an amicus brief filed by Professor Laurence H. Tribe of Harvard Law School, it is suggested that it is possible to impose legal duties on nonhuman animals, noting the “long history, mainly from the medieval and early modern periods, of animals being tried for offenses such as attacking human beings and eating crops,” none of the cases cited took place in modern times or in New York. Moreover, as noted in an amicus brief submitted by Professor Richard Cupp, nonhumans lack sufficient responsibility to have any legal standing, which, according to Cupp is why even chimpanzees who have caused death or serious injury to human beings have not been prosecuted.

The Nonhuman Rights Project issued a statement saying that it would appeal this decision to New York’s Court of Appeals.

Steven M. Wise, founder of the NhRP and the attorney who argued on behalf of Tommy and Kiko in Manhattan in March of 2017, said in response to the ruling, “For 2000 years all nonhuman animals have been legal things who lack the capacity for any legal rights. This is not going to change without a struggle. That fight has begun and we remain confident that Tommy’s and Kiko’s fundamental right to bodily liberty will be recognized as a matter of justice so that they too may experience the freedom they so desperately deserve. Public opinion has begun to tilt in our favor since we started filing these lawsuits, likely as a result of them.”

Memo to Steven Wise: Your Gaze-Inspired Intuitions Don’t Mean Squat

Steven Wise apparently has a new book out, Though the Heavens May Fall. The book is ostensibly about an 18th century British court case that helped turn the tide against slavery in that country, and of course you can probably imagine the sort of lesson that Wise wants us to take from that (if you can’t, its that such a similar case could turn the tide toward animal rights).

As animal rights activists go, Wise is relatively harmless. He has a complex model — widely criticized by other activists — that would grant certain species legal rights based upon how likely they are to have the sort of sense of self that human beings have. Its overly complex and unworkable in this writer’s opinion, but at least Wise doesn’t run around naked or make statements that killing those he disagrees with is not such a bad idea.

But he also used an argument that is simply stupid, unconvincing, and a bit out-of-character given Wise’s legalists arguments. He gave a speech at the University of Michigan in February in which he said,

Those of us who have had the opportunity to look a chimpanzee in the eye know that we are looking at a creature who is almost like us.

Both this — and its negation — are simply non-sequiturs that might reveal something about the personal preferences of the person making the statement, but add absolutely nothing to the debate about whether a chimpanzee or other animal is similar enough to human beings to warrant granting it rights.

And just to make clear, the following sentence is also irrelevant,

Those of us who have had the opportunity to look a chimpanzee in the eye know that we are not looking at a creature who is almost like us.

Wise should be smarter than this given the criticism he’s taken from other activists. If Joan Dunayer says something like,

Those of us how have had the opportunity to study a beehive closely know that we are looking at creatures who are almost like us.

Dunayer thinks bees should have rights. Wise does not. Presumably Wise does not believe intuitions based upon gazing at a beehive are enough to make a difference, so why does he pull out this canard in trying to convince us that his intuitions upon gazing into a chimpanzee’s eyes should do the trick?


Speaker: society should move toward granting animals rights. Pauline Lewis, The Michigan Daily, February 17, 2005.

Steven Wise vs. Joan Dunayer

As I’ve mentioned previously, Joan Dunayer’s new book Speciesism is really striking a nerve among many animal rights activists and groups. Animal rights legal activist Steven Wise complained on AR-NEWS that Dunayer had distorted his arguments about which animals should receive legal status as people. Dunayer responded to Wise’s criticism by posting the text of her chapter that critiques Wise.

In the chapter, Dunayer complains about activists such as Wise who believe that animals who he believes are capable of accomplishing cognitive tasks comparable to what human beings are capable of should be granted legal rights. Dunayer complains that this itself is speciesist for a number of reasons including that it excludes such creatures as insects.

Dunayer begins generally making her case,

Another legal case challenging nonhumans’ property status is overdue. When rights advocates bring such a case, it should be based on nonhuman sentience, not human-like mental capacities. Most likely, however, the advocates will apply new-speciesist philosophy and argue that particular nonhumans (probably, members of a great-ape species) should be legal persons because they closely resemble humans in their cognition and behavior.

. . .

By ranking humans as a perfect 1.0 [on Steven Wise’s scale of autonomy] and all other animals lower, Wise also casts nonhumans as lesser: not of equal value, not entitled to equal consideration. As envisioned by him, “animal rights” doesn’t mean animal equality.

The specific case Dunayer takes Wise to task for is his refusal to accede to Dunayer’s claim that insects should have rights. Dunayer uses the example of honeybees,

As in Rattling the Cage, at a 2000 conference Wise dismissed the idea that insects might reason or ever should have legal rights. I told him I knew of much evidence that honeybees and other insects reason. He requested references. The evidence I supplied included the following.

When a honeybee colony requires a new hive site, scouts (all of whom are sisters) search for a cavity of suitable location, dryness, and size. Each scout evaluates potential sites and reports back, dancing to convey information about the site that she most recommends. A honeybee scout may advertise one site over a period of days, but she repeatedly inspects her choice. She also examines sites proposed by others. If a sister’s find proves more desirable than her own, the honeybee stops advocating her original choice and starts dancing in favor of the superior site. She’s capable of changing her mind and her “vote.” Eventually, colony members reach a consensus.

. . .

To his “amazement and horror,” Wise found such evidence compelling. He now credits honeybees with the ability to reason. He shouldn’t have been so surprised. Reasoning ability has survival value for insects as well as humans.

Nevertheless, according to Wise, honeybees don’t qualify for legal rights. Why not? They’re invertebrates. If they were vertebrates — like us — he’d give them an autonomy grade of 0.75 or 0.8, and they’d qualify for rights. Lacking the proper pedigree, they aren’t welcome in the exclusive club.

Dunayer goes on to make a clear distortion of Wise’s argument. She claims that Wise has a hierarchical view of species that entails believing that evolution is moving creatures toward more human-like characteristics,

Like other new-speciesists, Wise has a hierarchical view of species: human traits are the most advanced. . . .

. . .

The notion of higher and lower beings lacks scientific validity.

Saying that animals that are more like humans are more likely to deserve rights in our legal framework than animals that are more dissimilar, however, does not in any way presuppose that evolution is producing more human-like animals or that there is some sort of inherent hierarchy that exists beyond human categorization.

Dunayer could just as easily argue, using her logic, that all known systems of categorizing species are unscientific and worthless because evolution doesn’t care about whether animals are vertebrates or invertebrates or mammals or non-mammals — all evolution does is describe how certain organisms are likely to succeed while others are likely to fail and how that reproductive pressure shapes the genotype and phenotype of those organisms.

No, it doesn’t make sense to create a hierarchy that ranks the “evolutionary progress” of species, but it certainly makes sense to create a definition of intelligence and rank species based on how close they approximate that definition.

And, of course, since she’s thrown around the Nazi comparisons elsewhere in her book, it is only a matter of time before she invokes slavery and racism analogies,

Before African-American emancipation, a number of slaves sued for freedom on the grounds that they were white. Unable to prove whiteness, they had to demonstrate that they were so much like a white that they should be given “the benefit of the doubt.” . . .

. . .

Wise would subject nonhumans to the same sort of bigoted, degrading tests that enslaved humans had to “pass” in order to receive the freedom that always was rightfully there. Just as demonstrations of whiteness were based on deeply racist premises, Wise’s proposed demonstrations of humanness are based on deeply speciesist ones. Wise, you’ll remember, considers the ancestry of African gray parrots and, deeming it too remote from ours, counts it against them. In Wise’s scheme, nonhumans don’t get freedom unless their ancestry is sufficiently human (white) and members of their species have demonstrated a sufficient number of human (white) traits. They don’t get freedom unless members of their species have scored 0.7 or higher in humanness (whiteness).

. . .

With regard to legal rights, Singer has praised Wise for supposedly answering the question “Where should we draw the line?” The answer always has been far simpler than Singer, Wise, and other new-speciesist would have us believe. The line should be drawn between sentient beings and insentient things.

It would be interesting to see what, if any, living creatures that Dunayer believes do not have rights. Under her definition, presumably bacteria, viruses and other life forms don’t have rights, but sentience as she defines it would presumably include almost every complex animal.


Speciesism. Joan Dunayer, 2004.

Joan Dunayer on Steven Wise and Peter Singer

In 2001 Joan Dunayer and Peter Singer were involved in a public dispute over the intricacies of animal rights arguments. Singer partially panned a book written by Dunayer for her claim that the death of an animal such as a chicken was just as tragic as a human being. Dunayer shot back that this, of course, is at the heart of what animal rights is about and criticized what she said was Singer’s reform-minded agenda as opposed to Dunayer’s abolition perspective.

Dunayer recently distributed the text of a speech she gave at an Austrian national animal rights conference attacking Singer and animal rights lawyer Steven Wise.

Dunayer’s main complaint against Wise revolves around the model he offers in Drawing the Line: Science and the Case for Animal Rights which relies on a number of criteria related to the mental capabilities of animals to decided whether or not they should be accorded rights. Wise’s argument is basically that animals that, in his view, share some cognitive abilities with human beings should be given legal protection — only humans, chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans, and bottle-nosed dolphins clearly meet Wise’s criteria.

Dunayer is upset by this argument because Wise denies rights to insects, which she maintains are capable of reasoning. She offers a long-winded and not terribly coherent description of honeybees “reasoning”,

In his first book, Rattling the Cage, Wise completely dismissed the idea that insects might reason. I told him I knew of much evidence that honeybees and other insects reason. He requested references. The evidence I supplied included the following: When a honeybee colony requires a new hive site, honeybee scouts search for a cavity of suitable location, dryness, and size. Each scout evaluates potential sites and reports back, dancing about the site that she most recommends. A honeybee scout may advertise one site over a period of days, but she repeatedly inspects her choice. She also examines sites proposed by others. If a sister’s find proves more desirable than her own, the honeybee stops advocating her original choice and starts dancing in favor of the superior site. In other words she’s capable of changing her mind and her “vote.” Eventually colony members reach a consensus.

Dunayer says this and similar evidence proves that honeybees reason, and apparently Wise agrees with her. But Wise still denies rights to honeybees and other insects, “Because, he says, they’re invertebrates. If they were vertebrates — like us — he’d grade them .75 or .8, and they’d qualify for rights. Too bad, honeybees.”

Dunayer, on the other hand, would clearly grant rights to honeybees and the rest of the invertebrate kingdom.
Dunayer also objects to Wise’s use of a common animal rights argument — that since some animals have cognitive abilities similar to those of some human patients such as very young children, the animals should be accorded rights. Dunayer finds this argument insulting . . . to the animals.

Wise advocates assessing the intelligence of nonhuman animals by giving them tests designed for human children, even though, by his own admission, tests designed for children may not be valid for nonhumans. Comparing nonhumans to human children insults humans. Some birds, such as Clark’s nutcrackers, can remember thousands of soil locations in which they’ve buried seed. What test designed for children, or even adult humans, possibly could reveal that? If captive adult gorillas and bottle-nosed dolphins seem to resemble human children, it’s because certain humans choose to view them that way and because they’ve been placed in stultifying environments that tallow scant expression of their natural adult nonhuman abilities. Personally I’m grateful that nonhuman animals aren’t like children. Imagine how annoying it would be if fishes, birds, and other nonhumans started going around whining, “I wanna cookie. I wanna cookie. I wanna cookie.”

Dunayer takes this argument to its logical extreme several paragraphs later (emphasis added),

We need to create the moral outrage that American abolitionists created about black enslavement, until the groundswell of public opinion forces legislation that recognizes sentience as the basis for rights. If some individual judges rule that a chimpanzee is a rights-holder because the chimpanzee shows human-like intelligence rather than because the chimp is sentient, we’ll have set the wrong kind of precedent. We don’t want a few nonhuman animals to be regarded a honorary humans. We want to get rid of humanness as the basis for rights.

Dunayer then carries her argument to Singer, criticizing him for having written approvingly of Wise’s argument. Dunayer is upset that Singer does not grant much consideration to chickens or fish. Dunayer responds,

Fourth, Singer’s disrespect for chickens, fishes, and so many other nonhuman animals is inconsistent with his own espoused philosophy, which values benign individuals more than those who, on balance, cause harm. By that measure, chickens and fishes are worthier than most humans, who needlessly cause much suffering and death (for example, by eating or wearing animal-derived products).

Dunayer adds that every animal is literally equal and worthy of rights, including houseflies,

Speciesism’s hallmark trait is denial of nonhuman individuality. In reality, no animal is replaceable. Both physically and mentally, ever sentient being is unique. Every lobster, every crow, every housefly, is an individual who has a unique life experience and never will exist again. But that’s not how abusers see it. For example, the flesh industry. In the flesh industry’s view — and that of flesh-eaters — chickens, fishes, and other nonhumans can be killed by the billions each year provided that others of their species remain available for future killing. Essentially, Singer has the same view.

Yes, that’s right, housefly rights.


Animal Equality. Joan Dunayer, Speech given at Austrian animal rights convention, September 5-9, 2002.

Chimpanzee Collaboratory Wants Chimpanzees to Have Standing in U.S. Courts

Steven Wise garnered a fair bit of attention in April when his new group,
The Chimpanzee Collaboratory, launched its campaign to grant chimpanzees
standing in U.S. courts. If successful, this would allow animal rights
activists to sue medical researchers, animal entertainers, zoos and other
entities for violating the rights of chimpanzees in their care.

Wise summed up his view in Nature writing,

I say that a minimum level of autonomy — the abilities to desire, to
act intentionally and to have some sense of self, whatever the species —
is sufficient to justify the basic legal right to bodily integrity.

. . .

Such immunity rights as bodily integrity and freedom from slavery can
belong to human children, infants, the very retarded, the profoundly
senile and the insane.

And, of course, if a retarded child has a right not to be
experimented on, why not a chimpanzee?

This is old hat for Wise, but it was odd seeing Harvard Law professor
Laurence Tribe offering his support, however odd, to the Chimpanzee
Collaboratory. Unlike Wise, it wasn’t clear that Tribe had really thought
through his claims.

ABC News, for example, paraphrased Tribe as arguing that if a corporation
— which is certainly not a sentient entity — can have rights, can’t
animals? But this is an entirely specious argument since he only reason
that corporations have rights is that they are the results of the
collective action of rights holders.

The corporation known as The New York Times deserves to be protected by
the First Amendment, for example, because it is composed of individuals
each of whom also possess such rights.

The odd thing is that Tribe seems to have something entirely different in
mind than Wise. Tribe, for example, seems to think that granting legal
standing to chimpanzees would simply be a way to more vigorously enforce
existing animal cruelty laws rather than create legal rights for them.
Tribe claims, for example, chimpanzees that have legal standing could
nonetheless still be used for medical research.

And where is the Chimpanzee Collaboratory getting the money to pursue
this campaign? The Seattle Post-Intelligencer notes that Rob Glaser,
chief executive of RealNetworks Inc., has given $1 million in funding to
the group over the past two years.


Should we let chimpanzees sue? ABCNews, May 2002.

U.S. activists demand lawyers for chimps. The BBC, April 26,

Will chimps make chumps of us in court? The Seattle Post-Intelligencer,
April 30, 2002.

Harvard Law School Adds Animal Rights Course

Just weeks after Gary Francione threw in the towel on the Rutgers Animal Law
Clinic after blaming the supposed conservative, anti-animal rights environment
on American campuses, one of the nation’s most prestigious law schools
announced that for the first time it will offer an elective class focusing on
animal rights.

Harvard Law School will offer its first animal rights course next year. Harvard
went out and hired animal rights activist attorney Steven Wise to teach the
new course. Wise, a past president of the Animal Legal Defense Fun and current
president of the Center for Expansion of Fundamental Rights has litigated numerous
animal rights cases at the state and federal level.

In its press release on the course, Harvard Law School quotes extensively from
the course description of the class written by Wise, which bears repeating:

[students will] learn that non-human animals are not legal persons and have
no legal rights. They do have a small number of legal protections. We will
review some of these protections and delve into the difficulties of attaining
standing to litigate in the interests of nonhuman animals. However, for the
last 25 years, demands that at least some other animals be given at least
some fundamental legal rights have been rising.

We will discuss the sources and characteristics of fundamental rights, why
humans are entitled to them, why nonhuman animals have been denied them, whether
legal rights should be limited to humans and, if not, what nonhuman animals
should be entitled to them under the common law, and to which legal rights
they should be entitled. Finally, we will examine in detail the arguments
for and against the entitlement of chimpanzees and bonobos to the common law
rights to bodily integrity and bodily liberty.

The last paragraph is especially interesting since the stated purpose of Wise’s
Center for Expansion of Fundamental Rights is to extend fundamental rights to
chimpanzees and bonobos.

Although a few other law schools offer courses on animal rights, Harvard’s
decisions could pave the way for the widespread adoption of animal rights courses
across the country. As Pamela Frasch, who teaches an animal law course at Northwestern
School of Law of Lewis and Clark College, told the Associated Press, “Everybody
I know that teaches animal law was absolutely thrilled to hear that Harvard
was going to offer it. It’s just reality that if Harvard is going to teach
it, that other schools that might have looked askance at it as a legitimate
area of study might take another look.”

Alan Ray, Harvard Law School’s assistant dean for academic affairs, defended
the course by saying, “It took a 13th Amendment to the Constitution for
us to outlaw slavery at a time when people were treated as property because
of the color of their skin. There are occasions in the law for taking a very
fundamental look at the treatment of other living things.”

With Princeton’s hiring of Peter Singer and Harvard’s hiring of Wise,
the day will not be too far off when our universities will find scientists on
one end of campus victimized by animal rights terrorists while legal professors
on the other side of campus teach students that the violent activists are simply
modern day abolitionists.