Animal Law

'Best Interest' in Chimp Custody Case?

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Are Emma, 5, and Jackson, 6, just somebody’s property? Or are the two chimpanzees, with their individual interests and tastes–she likes watermelon, for instance, while he prefers grapefruit–entitled to have their best interest taken into account when a court decides who owns them?

That is the question that is now facing a Eugene, Oregon, court, in a chimp custody case that could expand the parameters of legally recognized animal rights, reports the Oregonian.

The two chimps were transferred temporarily in March from a troubled Texas sanctuary, Primarily Primates Inc., to Chimps Inc., an animal shelter near Bend, in the central part of the state of Oregon. But now the Oregon shelter is refusing to give the two animals back to the cleaned-up Texas establishment, saying the animals’ own interests are best-served by staying where they are.

If the court applies traditional law, the case will focus on interpreting a contract between Chimps Inc. and Primarily Primates, says Pamela Frasch. She is an adjunct professor at Lewis & Clark Law School, near Portland, Oregon, and a vice president of legal affairs for the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

But there is a growing legal advocacy movement that seeks to have courts consider animals as not simply property but fellow creatures with limited personal rights. “This case is very interesting,” says Frasch, “because it could develop that area of law where the courts are considering the best interests of the animals when considering where those animals may be placed.”

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