ALBANY, N.Y. — An animal rights group is asking New York courts to recognize scientific evidence of emotional and cognitive abilities in chimpanzees and to grant the animals “legal personhood” so that they are ensured better treatment.

Nonhuman Rights Project, a nonprofit founded in 2007 by Massachusetts lawyer Steven Wise, filed a second lawsuit Tuesday will file a third Thursday, asking the courts to declare that the chimps are not things to be possessed and caged by people and should be released from “illegal detention.”

The group is seeking an order, on behalf of four chimps, for their release to a sanctuary that is a member of the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance, to live out their lives with other primates in a natural outdoor setting. “In this case, we are claiming that chimpanzees are autonomous,” Wise said. “That is, being able to self-determine … and be able to choose how to live their own lives.”

The lawsuits include affidavits from scientists who say chimpanzees have complex cognitive abilities, such as awareness of the past, the ability to make choices and display complex emotions such as empathy.

“Once we prove that chimpanzees are autonomous, that should be sufficient for them to gain legal personhood and at least have their fundamental interests protected by human rights,” Wise said.