New York courts have ruled out an animal rights group's efforts to provide captive chimpanzees in New York state with the same rights as a "legal person".

The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) issued three different law suits on behalf of four chimpanzees, named Tommy, Kiko, Hercules and Leo, in New York State last week in a bid to secure them the "right to bodily liberty".

The three lawsuits requested that the chimpanzees be transferred to a sanctuary "where they can live out their days with others of their kind in an environment as close to the wild as is possible in North America."

The group has declared that it will challenge the courts' decisions in due process.

"These outcomes allow the NhRP to proceed to the appellate courts," the organisation's spokeswoman Stacey Doss said.

NhRP founder Steven Wise stated that before the lawsuits were issued, he would "be asking judges to recognise, for the first time, that these cognitively complex, autonomous beings have the basic legal right to not be imprisoned."

The owners of Kiko, Hercules and Leo were unavailable for comment but Tommy's owner dismissed suggestions that he kept Tommy in a "prison".

Pat Levery said: "I'd be happy to show you Tommy's home, to show you how well he is cared for."

NhRP said it had further plans to file lawsuits against owners who kept the chimpanzees - "who are scientifically proven to be self-aware and autonomous" - captive.