Tommy, a 26-year-old former circus performer, lives on a trailer park in Gloversville in upstate New York, where he spends his days alone and confined to a shed, watching cartoons and nature programmes on television.
His lawyer, Steven Wise, says this is no kind of life for a human. The problem? Tommy is a chimpanzee.
This week, however, in what is believed to be the first court case of its kind, Mr Wise will argue that Tommy and other chimps are entitled to “legal personhood”. The Boston-based lawyer, who is also the president of animal advocacy group the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), hopes a New York appeals court will rule that Tommy has been unlawfully imprisoned, and should be released to live among other chimps at a sanctuary in Florida.
Keeping Tommy alone in a cage is just like keeping a human in solitary confinement, says Mr Wise, who has spent much of his career attempting to extend human rights and protections, such as freedom from captivity, to other intelligent animals.
Should Tommy win his case, it could lead to broader rights not only for chimps and their fellow primates but also for other intelligent animals such as elephants, orcas and dolphins. The NhRP is expecting a written decision from the appeals court next month.