Animal rights activists are asking a court to recognize a chimpanzee as a person.

Tommy the chimpanzee lives in a temperature-controlled barn in upstate New York, where his owner has dropped $200,000 on the home. Tommy has seven different rooms – one where he sleeps, one where he likes to watch TV, and a few where he plays. His owner says he has complied with all regulations and has worked hard to keep Tommy happy.


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But Nonhuman Rights Project is arguing that for Tommy, living alone is like a person being kept in solitary confinement. The group has filed a legal challenge and is trying to invoke habeas corpus, a legal procedure which entitles inmates to have a judge review their detention.

A court last year ruled that such rights do not apply to chimpanzees, but last week, the group asked a panel of appeals court judges to change that by declaring Tommy a person.


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Corporations and ships have personhood status, which allows them to sue and be sued, but personhood has never been extended to animals.

If declared a person, activists say they would fight to send the chimp to a sanctuary in Florida and would work to extend to other animals.