They have been put in diapers like babies, taught human sign language and games to show their complex thinking skills, and put into costumes and given props for our entertainment. They have even been depicted as taking over the earth, using humans as slaves, in the Planet of the Apes.
According to New York's Supreme Court Appellate Division, however, chimpanzees are not people and cannot be granted the same legal rights as persons. It is a serious blow to animal rights activists, particularly those fighting for Tommy the Chimp, who has been missing the company of other chimps and instead has been living with his owner in Upstate New York for the past decade.
The Nonhuman Rights Project tried to get the courts to step in and improve the living conditions of Tommy who remains in a cage, the group claims.
They have petitioned, on behalf of Tommy, a writ of habeas corpus demanding his owners to bring him to court in order to determine the legality of his "imprisonment."
The writ of habeas corpus is usually granted to human detainees. The first petition the group filed in a lower court in December 2013 was denied.
The group then attempted to appeal the decision, arguing that chimps should be afforded the same rights as humans due to their high level of cognition, which is very similar to humans' self-awareness. Even the DNA structure of chimps and bonobos are similar to human DNA.
However, the state's highest court in Albany disagreed, saying that, as a chimp, Tommy cannot be held legally accountable and therefore cannot be given the same legal status as humans.
"Unlike 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," explained Karen Peters, one of the judges on the case.
Tommy's owners are happy with the court decision, saying that they have never abused Tommy while he has been in their care. He is always given toys to play with and outside cage time to keep him busy.
However, animal rights activists still want to see Tommy freed and in the company of other chimps in a sanctuary where he can thrive.