Are Zoos Prisons? Habeas Corpus Filed for Chimp

chimp behind bars photo
Photo via flickr

Jimmy is a 26 year old chimpanzee who has spent several years alone in a cage, where he's on exhibit at a zoo in Niterói, Brazil, just outside of Rio de Janeiro. Just last week, animal protection groups filed a motion to have Jimmy released on grounds of Habeas Corpus, arguing that he is being denied his rights to freedom of movement and to a decent life, in Rio's Criminal Court. If the appeal is accepted and Jimmy is allowed to go free, it will not be the first time such a legal maneuver is successful, however. Slowly, courts around the country are beginning to consider chimpanzees like Jimmy a legal 'party' with rights and not merely objects.The argument put forth by the Great Ape Project and other prosecutors and lawyers on behalf of Jimmy is grounded in Brazil's Constitution which states:

The right to habeas corpus is granted whenever someone suffers or feels threatened by violence or coercion in their freedom of movement by illegality or abuse of power.

Habeas Corpus Has Worked Before
In 2005, another captive chimpanzee in the country was supposed to be released when a similar petition was filed in Bahia. Brazilian prosecutor Heron Santana led the case which has become a global standard. Together with professors and law students associations and animal rights, he filed a Habeas Corpus in favor of a 23 year old chimpanzee named Switzerland, who was in zoo for 4 years, according to a report in Jornal a Tribuna.

Sadly, the day after the ruling was delivered granting Switzerland her freedom, she was found dead in her cage.

Because of the precedent set in Switzerland's case, animal rights groups are hopeful that Jimmy will be granted his freedom as well. There's no telling, though, whether other courts around the world will begin to consider chimpanzees, our closest genetic cousins, creatures deserving of the most fundamental of legal rights--or whether they'll remain viewed as mere objects.

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