Animal rights group Nonhuman Rights Project is calling on a New York court to recognize a chimpanzee as a legal person, in what is believed to be a legal first.
The Nonhuman Rights Project wants chimp Tommy to be granted “legal personhood” and thus entitled to the “fundamental right of bodily liberty”.
The group is planning to file the same lawsuit on behalf of three other chimps across New York this week.
It wants the four to be released from their captivity.
They should be taken to a sanctuary that is a member of the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance, the group argues.
The group filed the lawsuit on behalf of Tommy on Monday.
“We are claiming that chimpanzees are autonomous – that is, being able to self-determine, be self-aware, and be able to choose how to live their own lives,” its founder Steven Wise told the Associated Press news agency.
The Nonhuman Rights Project wants chimp Tommy to be granted legal personhood and thus entitled to the fundamental right of bodily liberty
Scientists’ evidence is included in the lawsuits.
“Once we prove that chimpanzees are autonomous, that should be sufficient for them to gain legal personhood and at least have their fundamental interests protected by human rights,” Steven Wise said.
Tommy, the group said, “is being held captive in a shed at a used-trailer lot” in Gloversville, New York.
Patrick Lavery, owner of the site where Tommy lives, said the chimp’s cage was spacious “with tons of toys”.
He said he rescued Tommy from his previous home, where he had been badly treated, but had been unsuccessful in placing him in a sanctuary because there was no room.
“If [the Nonhuman Rights Group] were to see where this chimp lived for the first 30 years of his life, they would jump up and down for joy about where he is now,” Patrick Lavery told the New York Times.
The lawsuit invokes the common law writ of habeas corpus, the right to challenge unlawful detention.
The Nonhuman Rights Group says it is dedicated to changing the common law status of species considered autonomous, and could eventually file lawsuits on behalf of gorillas, orangutans, whales, dolphins and elephants.
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Japanese researchers have discovered that lar gibbons use the same techniques as human soprano singers to make their melodic but piercing calls.
When the apes made calls while in an atmosphere rich in helium, the team analyzed the calls’ frequencies.
As the team report, the apes were able to control the natural frequencies of their “vocal tracts”.
Such control, exemplified by sopranos, was thought to be unique to humans.
Humans share a great deal of the biological equipment of sound production with apes. That includes first of all the “source” – the vocal folds that humans and many animals share.
There is also the “vocal tract” – the oesophagus and trachea and the mouth, which are well known in humans to shape sung notes and subtle vowel sounds.
Japanese researchers have discovered that lar gibbons use the same techniques as human soprano singers to make their melodic but piercing calls
In humans the vocal tract acts as a filter on the sound from the source, and the “source-filter theory” held that the separate, fine control of the vocal tract to be the product of a long evolution in the development of the subtleties of speech.
Singing too has evolved, and soprano singers reach their piercing high notes by precisely controlling the shape of their vocal tract to match its natural, resonant frequency with multiples of the one being produced by their vocal folds.
Now Takeshi Nishimura of Kyoto University’s Primate Research Institute and his colleagues have tested whether lar gibbons (also known as white-handed gibbons, Hylobates lar) have this same separate control – by using helium.
As anyone who has breathed helium knows, its presence raises the pitch of the voice. It increases the natural resonant frequency in the vocal tract because the speed of sound in helium is very different from that in air.
That shift allowed the team to record calls in helium and examine separately the sounds of gibbons’ “pure-tone” vocalizations from the vocal folds as well as how they were modified in the vocal tract.
Detailed analyses of the frequencies produced showed that the gibbons modified their vocal tracts to match multiples of the vocal folds’ frequencies – just like soprano singers.
Dr. Takeshi Nishimura said the findings were significant – not only that the “source-filter theory” was not the preserve of human physiology, but also that the gibbons had mastered techniques that in humans were only found in professional singers.
He explained that it upended a long history of research suggesting the control humans enjoy is the product of a long line of physiological and anatomical changes under the influence of evolution.
“The present study challenges that concept and throws new insight into the studies on biological foundations producing the diversifications in primate vocalizations, including human speech,” he said.
“It is hoped that this study will encourage researchers in various research fields to conduct further investigations of primate vocalizations and that such empirical evidence will lead to a deeper understanding of the evolution of speech and language.”