Victory! Chimps Will Get Their Day in Court for Case Seeking Personhood

Unbeknownst to two privately-owned chimpanzees being used for biomedical research in New York, their legal advocates are making progress in a case seeking to have them recognized as legal persons and freed.

Earlier this week, news broke that Judge Barbara Jaffe of the New York County Supreme Court had made history by issuing a writ of habeas corpus for nonhuman animals for the first time ever, essentially declaring they are legal persons.

The case was brought by the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) on behalf of Hercules and Leo, two chimpanzees who are being used in locomotion research at Stony Brook University to explore how humans evolved to walk on two feet.

The NhRP is working on several such cases seeking to break down the legal wall that separates us from nonhuman animals. Using the writ of habeus corpus, which has historically been used to challenge imprisonment, they are attempting to get the courts recognize them as legal persons who are entitled to a basic legal right not to be imprisoned, as opposed to recognizing them as property, which is how the law now sees them.

They argue that these chimpanzees, and other nonhuman animals, have been scientifically-proven to possess intelligence, self-awareness and autonomy and should therefore have the right to bodily liberty and bodily integrity – something we, as humans, are automatically granted just by being born human.

In this case, the NhRP is seeking to have Hercules and Leo moved to Save the Chimps, a Florida-based sanctuary, where the organization believes they will be able to live out the rest of their days in an environment that’s as close to their natural one as it gets here in the states.

They’re Not Legal Persons …Yet

While the ruling would have marked the first time in U.S. history nonhuman animals were granted a writ of habeas corpus, Jaffe later amended it and crossed out ‘writ of habeus corpus’ from the order.

The NhRP clarified what the original ruling and update means in a statement, writing:

The Order does not necessarily mean that the Court has declared that the two chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo, are legal persons for the purpose of an Article 70 common law writ of habeas corpus proceeding…

The issuance of the Order means, we believe, that the Court believes at minimum that the chimpanzees could possibly be legal persons for the purpose of Article 70, without deciding that they are, and that the issue will be determined only after it is fully briefed and argued at the adversarial hearing that is step 2 of the Article 70 proceeding.

This is still the first time an Order to Show Cause has been issued, meaning Stony Brook University will now have to appear in court next month with a good legal reason for keeping Hercules and Leo. If it can’t justify keeping the two, they will have to be moved and the door will be left wide open for other cases challenging our use of nonhuman animals.

In addition to working on behalf of Hercules and Leo and other great apes, including Tommy and Kiko, the NhRP also has plans for cases that will establish legal personhood for other species including elephants and cetaceans.

As for Hercules and Leo, they will now get their day in court. Their hearing, which will be open to the public, is now scheduled for May 27 at 10:30 am at the New York County Supreme Court, 80 Centre St., New York, NY.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Lorraine Andersen

These animals are very intelligent. They use tools, and have language. They are as much people in their own right was we are.

Jane B.
Jani B2 years ago

They are are distant relatives...and also intelligent, loving, family oriented, kind, and compassionate..more so than some human animals! It is their world too, and are not here for us to use or abuse!

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 years ago

But they aren't people, they are animals!

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Dianne D.
Dianne D2 years ago

good news. I hope they win their freedom.

Glennis Whitney
Glennis W2 years ago

Great work Chimps, just so great to something happy for a change.

Glennis Whitney
Glennis W2 years ago

Isn't it great to have a good news story for a change, just awesome.

Hent catalina - maria

Very good news

Teresa W.
Teresa W2 years ago

good news

SANJA l2 years ago