Chimpanzees are not entitled to the same rights as people, a New York state appeals court has ruled, thwarting an advocacy group's attempt to get primates freed from captivity. The Nonhuman Rights Project said it was already pursuing an appeal at New York state's highest court in a bid to move four privately owned chimpanzees to a sanctuary. The group argued in court in October that chimps had such similar characteristics to humans that they should be recognised as "legal persons" and given the right to liberty. But a panel of appeal judges in the state capital Albany on Thursday declined to enlarge the common-law definition of "person." "A chimpanzee is not a 'person' entitled to the rights and protections afforded by the writ of habeas corpus," the judges wrote. "Unlike human beings, chimpanzees cannot bear any legal duties, submit to societal responsibilities or be held legally accountable for their actions. "It is this incapability to bear any legal responsibilities and societal duties that renders it inappropriate to confer upon chimpanzees the legal rights ... that have been afforded to human beings." The Nonhuman Rights Project says it is the first time anyone has ever sought a writ of habeas corpus applied to an animal. "The court ignores the fact that the common law is supposed to change in light of new scientific discoveries, changing experiences and changing ideas of what is right or wrong," it said. The case hinges on the effort to have a chimpanzee called Tommy removed to a sanctuary. The charity says Tommy is being held in solitary confinement in a "small, dank ... shed".