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Judge Removes 'Legal Persons' Status in Chimpanzee Case

Leo and Hercules may still gain freedom, but not through writ of habeas corpus

A New York judge removed a precedent-setting order that granted a pair of chimpanzees legal personhood. (Photo: Tambako the Jaguar/flickr/cc)

The New York judge who on Tuesday granted a writ of habeas corpus to two chimpanzees being held at Stony Brook University has issued a revised order (pdf) clarifying that she did not mean to give legal personhood to the primates.

Leo and Hercules, who are currently housed at Stony Brook University for biomedical experiments, may still gain freedom from captivity and be transferred to the Save the Chimps sanctuary in Ft. Pierce, Florida, but Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe's amended ruling removes the precedent-setting factor of the case.

A hearing is set for May 6, in which a representative of Stony Brook University will have to argue the school's reasons for keeping the chimps. The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), which filed the case, will argue that the primates are too intelligent and emotionally complex to be held in captivity. The court will then decide whether to set Leo and Hercules free.

After the amendment was made, the NhRP responded with measured optimism.

"This case is one of a trio of cases that the Nonhuman Rights Project has brought in an attempt to free chimpanzees imprisoned within the State of New York through an 'Article 70–Habeas Corpus' proceeding," the NhRP stated. "These cases are novel and this is the first time that an Order to Show Cause has issued. We are grateful for an opportunity to litigate the issue of the freedom of the chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo, at the ordered May hearing."

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