By Daniel Wiessner
Jan 2 (Reuters) - Less than a month after a New York state appeals court ruled that chimpanzees do not have legal rights and cannot be released from captivity, a case involving a second chimp has been dismissed.
Attorney and animal rights activist Steven Wise in 2013 filed a habeas corpus petition - traditionally employed by prison inmates who claim they have been illegally detained - on behalf of a chimp named Kiko.
Wise has said that Kiko, who is owned by primate expert Carmen Presti, is deaf from abuse suffered during the making of a Tarzan film and lives tied to a chain in a cement cage in Niagara Falls. He asked for Kiko to be released to a sanctuary in Florida, saying that private captivity is unsuitable for chimps because they are autonomous creatures.
The court in Rochester said Friday that habeas corpus may only be used when a person seeks immediate release from unlawful imprisonment, and not where a petitioner wants only to change the conditions of confinement rather than the confinement itself.
The Nonhuman Rights Project, the group founded by Wise that brought the lawsuit, said in a statement that it would ask New York's top court to review the decision.
"For 200 years, New York courts have used (habeas corpus) to move an individual from a place of less freedom to more freedom," the group said.
Presti, Kiko's owner, did not make an appearance in the case and could not be reached for comment.
In an earlier case brought by Wise, over a chimp named Tommy, an Albany appeals court ruled on Dec. 4 that primates cannot be afforded legal rights because they do not understand the responsibilities that follow.
The cases are among the first in the world to seek legal personhood for animals. While Wise has not been victorious, a judge in Argentina on Dec. 21 ruled that an orangutan living at a zoo was a "non-human person" unlawfully deprived of its freedom and ordered it released to a sanctuary.
Wise has not claimed that Kiko and Tommy were mistreated by their owners but said the cases challenge the very idea that chimps can be held in captivity.
He has said he will bring similar cases on behalf of elephants, dolphins, orcas and other intelligent animals.
The case is Nonhuman Rights Project v. Presti, New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Department, No. 14-357. (Reporting by Daniel Wiessner; Editing by Ted Botha and Leslie Adler)
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