Published on
by

In Historic Ruling, Pair of Chimpanzees Recognized as 'Legal Persons'

Two research chimps granted right to seek relief from imprisonment in habeas corpus ruling

Chimpanzees are too intelligent to be held captive, argues the Nonhuman Rights Project. (Photo: pastries71/flickr/cc)

For the first time in U.S. history, a judge has effectively recognized two chimpanzees as legal persons, in an order Monday which will allow a pair of research primates—Hercules and Leo—to seek relief from unlawful imprisonment.

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe on Monday granted the chimps a writ of habeas corpus that will require Stony Brook University, where they are being kept for biomedical experiments, to appear in court and explain why the school has "unlawfully detained" Leo and Hercules. That hearing is set for May 6.

Jaffe's decision comes in response to a petition filed by the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP). Steven Wise, one of the lawyers on the case, told the Guardian after the ruling, "This is one step in a long, long struggle."

As NhRP stated in a press release Monday: "Under the law of New York State, only a 'legal person' may have an order to show cause and writ of habeas corpus issued in his or her behalf. The Court has therefore implicitly determined that Hercules and Leo are 'persons.'"

"That's the first time that has happened," Wise said.

SCROLL TO CONTINUE WITH CONTENT

The media landscape is changing fast

Our news team is changing too as we work hard to bring you the news that matters most.

Change is coming. And we've got it covered.

Please donate to our 2019 Mid-Year Campaign today.

If Leo and Hercules are found to be unlawfully detained, they will be transferred to Save the Chimps, a sanctuary in Ft. Pierce, Florida which currently holds 250 other primates on 13 artificial islands.

"This is a big step forward to getting what we are ultimately seeking: the right to bodily liberty for chimpanzees and other cognitively complex animals," NhRP executive director Natalie Prosin told Science. "We got our foot in the door. And no matter what happens, that door can never be completely shut again."

NhRP initially filed the suit in December 2013 on behalf of Leo, Hercules, and two other chimps being held on private property, arguing that the primates were too intelligent and emotionally complex to be kept in captivity. However, the case was dismissed by a justice of the Supreme Court of Suffolk County. The organization refiled its petition last March.

"It feels great. We knew it was going to happen sometime," Wise said on Monday.

Prosin added, "It strengthens our argument that these nonhuman animals are not property."

We want a more open and sharing world.

That's why our content is free. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported.

All of our original content is published under Creative Commons—allowing (and encouraging) our articles to be republished freely anywhere. In addition to the traffic and reach our content generates on our site, the multiplying impact of our work is huge and growing as our articles flourish across the Internet and are republished by other large and small online and print outlets around the world.

Several times a year we run brief campaigns to ask our readers to pitch in—and thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Our 2019 Mid-Year Campaign is underway. Can you help? We can't do it without you.

Please select a donation method:



Share This Article