MONKEY BUSINESS: Can A Chimp Sue Its Owner?


NEW YORK TIMES: It has been only in the last 30 years or so that a distinct field of animal law — that is laws and legal theory expressly for and about nonhuman animals — has emerged. When Steven Wise taught his first animal-law class in 1990 at Vermont Law School, he knew of only two others of its kind in the country. Today there are well over a hundred. Yet while animal-welfare laws and endangered-species statutes now abound, the primary thrust of such legislation remains the regulation of our various uses and abuses of animals, including food production, medical research, entertainment and private ownership. The fundamental legal status of nonhumans, however, as things, as property, with no rights of their own, has remained unchanged. Wise has devoted himself to subverting that hierarchy by moving the animal from the defendant’s table to the plaintiff’s. Not in order to cast cognitively advanced beings like Tommy in a human light, but rather to ask a judge to recognize them as individuals in and of themselves: Beings entitled to something that, without us, no wild animal would ever require — the fundamental right, at least, not to be wrongfully imprisoned. MORE