'Legal personhood' sought for Stony Brook chimpanzees in possible lawsuit

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A national animal advocacy group says it plans to file a lawsuit Thursday seeking to free two young chimpanzees being used as research subjects at Stony Brook University.

The lawsuit, to be brought by the Nonhuman Rights Project, aims to establish "legal personhood" for the chimps and will mirror two others filed earlier this week in New York State Supreme Court, said Stacey Doss, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit based in Coral Springs, Fla.

Lawyers for the group said the lawsuits are based on scientific evidence proving that chimpanzees are self-aware and autonomous, and therefore are entitled to be recognized as "legal persons" with certain fundamental rights.

"No one has ever demanded a legal right for a nonhuman animal -- until now," said Nonhuman Rights Project founder and president Steven Wise.

"When we go to court on behalf of the first chimpanzee plaintiffs, we'll be asking judges to recognize, for the first time, that these cognitively complex, autonomous beings have the basic legal right to not be imprisoned," he said.

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Hercules and Leo, male chimpanzees owned by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette's New Iberia Research Center, are being used in a locomotion research experiment by the Anatomy Department at Stony Brook, the advocacy group said.

"Stony Brook University has not seen any legal papers related to this matter and therefore is unable to comment on the referenced lawsuit," university spokeswoman Lauren Sheprow said Tuesday in a statement.

The chimpanzees are housed within the Stony Brook Division of Laboratory Animal Research, which has been fully accredited for more than 30 years, Sheprow said.

All research protocols are reviewed by the Stony Brook Institutional Animal Use and Care committee, she said.

The Nonhuman Rights Project filed the first lawsuit Monday on behalf of a chimp named Tommy, 26, who lives with his owner in Gloversville, about 35 miles northwest of Albany. The second was filed Tuesday on behalf of Kiko, also 26, who has appeared in movies and now lives on private property in Niagara Falls.The lawsuits ask the judge to grant the chimpanzees the right to "bodily liberty" and to order that they be moved to a sanctuary that is part of the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance.

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