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Top court declines to hear chimpanzee rights case

ALBANY - New York's top court Tuesday declined to hear the appeal of the case of Tommy and Kiko, ending a bid for the chimpanzees to gain "legal personhood" status.

The Court of Appeals, without comment, denied a motion by animal rights advocates to argue the chimps' case in the state's highest court. That left intact two midlevel court rulings that denied legal rights to the chimps, a court spokesman said.

The Nonhuman Rights Project had sued to get Tommy removed from an upstate farm to a sanctuary in Florida. The midlevel Appellate Division rejected the lawsuit in December.

"Needless to say, unlike human beings, chimpanzees cannot bear any legal duties, submit to societal responsibilities or be held legally accountable for their actions," Justice Karen Peters wrote for the court in December.

The suit to remove Kiko from The Primate Sanctuary, a Niagara Falls facility with 36 animals, was rejected in January. Carmen Presti, co-owner of the Primate Sanctuary, said Tuesday he was "very happy that this is finally over."

"It was kind of ludicrous right from the start," Presti said in an interview. "Honestly, I think this whole thing was a publicity stunt."

Presti said allegations that he kept Kiko chained were untrue. But he said the 29-year-old chimp, who has been at Presti's zoo for 23 years, lives alone because his brother died two years ago, and Kiko is deaf and has an equilibrium condition that can trigger "spells" that greatly irritate the other animals.

Presti said the animal rights group "never had Kiko's best interest at heart."

The Nonhuman Rights Project said it was "in no way discouraged" by the outcome because it is engaged a long-term strategic legal effort to establish rights for animals.

"We are still in the early stages of a long-term, multistate strategic litigation campaign to change the legal status of appropriate nonhuman animals like Tommy and Kiko from mere 'things' to 'persons' possessing such fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty," Steven M. Wise, the group's attorney, said in a statement. "We already are discussing whether, where and how to refile Tommy's and Kiko's cases in the appropriate courts."

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