“Habeas Chimpanzee”

“Tommy” and other chimpanzees are the subjects of several lawsuits in New York seeking writs of habeas corpus and “immediate release from illegal detention.” These lawsuits, the doing of the Nonhuman Rights Project, are not a surprise. As already noted in these pages (“Animal Desires,” April 9, 2012), NRP volunteer lawyers have spent years researching the common law of states, looking for legal precedents that can be twisted to support declaring intelligent animals such as chimps and dolphins to be “legal persons.”

The New York litigation is based on a 1772 King’s Bench ruling that ordered an escaped and recaptured African-American slave named James Somersett freed as a “person” rather than sent to Jamaica as chattel. Think about that for a moment. If anyone ever claimed that American slaves were morally equivalent to chimpanzees, charges of racism would rightly fly. But the Nonhuman Rights Project makes the very same argument—just the other way around.

The chimps in the cases are owned by a roadside zoo, Stony Brook University, and a private individual who keeps one at home. The NRP’s press release alleges that the chimps at the zoo have been neglected or abused. But ending alleged mistreatment isn’t the prime purpose of the case. Rather, the goal is to force inclusion of animals, along with people, in the moral community.

Indeed, according to the group’s website, its investigators have known of the alleged cruelty for some time, but apparently never reported it to the authorities. “Three months” after first discovering the chimps’ poor care, NRP investigators visited the zoo again and learned that two of the animals were dead.

Still they did nothing. Later, they found Tommy kept “in a small cage at the back of a dark shed,” clearly improper confinement for a social animal. Yet even this abuse they did not report, though doing so would likely have brought Tommy immediate relief. Instead, the NRP reports, “the conclusion of the legal team was to move as quickly as possible to file the suit,” pressing toward their ideological goals rather than seeking to secure Tommy’s present welfare.

To understand the importance of these lawsuits, it is necessary to appreciate the distinction between “animal welfare” and “animal rights.” The former concept accepts that it is moral for humans to own animals and use them for our benefit, though we have a solemn duty to treat animals with respect and use humane methods of husbandry. These principles are embodied in numerous state criminal statutes against animal abuse—such as those used to prosecute Michael Vick—and in myriad other laws, regulations, and ethical protocols.

In contrast, animal rights is an ideology that perceives animals as having the same right not to be owned as humans. Ultimately, the movement seeks to prohibit all domestication of animals.

via The Weekly Standard.

The problem: “personhood” means that either the animals in question are capable of living in accordance with human law – or else they need to be assigned guardians.

We should beware anyone who volunteers for the task of guardianship over these animals: guardianship involves doing what is right for the animal, and is therefore expensive and largely unrewarding.

But so far, the “non human rights movement” or “nature rights movement” has shown itself to be more interested in exploiting than protecting those it claims to speak on behalf of.

These movements will claim the right to speak for the trees/chimps/orca/flowers/whatever, but the words they put into these creatures’ mouths will be, “What I want is for all the world’s resources to go into my guardians’ pocket!”

Lest some readers complacently assume that no court would grant an animal a writ of habeas corpus—one nearly did. In 2005, a Brazilian judge heard a case for a writ on behalf of Suica, a chimpanzee, and appeared on the cusp of granting the request when the chimp died, mooting the case.