I wanna be like you: Give Tommy the chimp his legal rights


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The Independent Online

It sounds like something out of Planet of the Apes – a claim going before a Manhattan court on behalf of a chimpanzee named Tommy, who is being kept in a shed in upstate New York. The claim is that Tommy is an intelligent, sentient, sensitive creature who has been unlawfully imprisoned.

The idea of granting our closest living relatives some of the same dignities and freedoms we automatically assume apply to humans is a perfectly reasonable and practical one. No one is suggesting we give chimps the vote. Once we accept that other living creatures, and especially the non-human primates, cannot and should not be treated in the same way as inanimate chattels, then what we are talking about is stopping animal cruelty.

The cause of stronger rights for animals has a strong intellectual backing, provided by the likes of the Australian philosopher Peter Singer and by one of our own public intellectuals, Richard Dawkins. And yet the plight of the great apes – in zoos and circuses and in the wild – appeals to a basic human emotion and the quality of mercy.

We should welcome a world in which chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orang-utans are treated with respect. We humans – so close to them in evolutionary terms – should take our stinking paws off their freedoms.