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Where is Tommy the Chimp?

By Lauren Choplin

“I’ve never been able to shake the profoundly depressing thought of Tommy sitting alone and watching TV, day after day after day, like a prisoner in solitary confinement. Surely, we as a society can do better. Certainly, we owe chimps and other animals more.” – Chris Churchill, “Where is Tommy the Chimp?”

Chris Churchill—”one of the most well-known names, and faces, at the [Albany] Times Union”—has just published a column on the unknown whereabouts of our first chimpanzee client Tommy. As the NhRP’s Courtney Fern told Chris in an interview, Tommy’s treatment and seeming disappearance illustrate the inadequacy of animal protection regulations in the United States: so far neither multiple public records requests nor multiple private investigators have been able to confirm, at least with 100% certainty, where Tommy is, while Tommy’s former owner claims he can’t remember where he sent him.

As we’ve stressed since the beginning of our fight for the legal personhood and right to liberty of chimpanzees and elephants, this total lack of oversight or consequence is exactly what can and does routinely happen when these self-aware, autonomous nonhuman beings are treated as mere “things” to be bought, sold, traded, confined, hidden, and exploited.

This column is not the first Chris has dedicated to Tommy. We thank him for his continued interest in Tommy’s story and compassion for his plight.

We also appreciate his inclusion of an excerpt from the historic and powerful opinion issued by New York Court of Appeals Judge Eugene M. Fahey in Tommy and Kiko’s cases. In it, Judge Fahey wrote that the question of nonhuman animals’ legal personhood and rights constitutes “a deep dilemma of ethics and policy that demands our attention. To treat a chimpanzee as if he or she had no right to liberty protected by habeas corpus is to regard the chimpanzee as entirely lacking independent worth, as a mere resource for human use, a thing the value of which consists exclusively in its usefulness to others. Instead, we should consider whether a chimpanzee is an individual with inherent value who has the right to be treated with respect.”

You can help by sharing the column; liking and commenting on this tweet; and, especially if you live in New York, sending a letter to the editor thanking the author and publication for telling Tommy’s story.

We will have further actions planned for Tommy based on new information we are currently assessing.

Thank you as always!

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