In an unprecedented decision, Judge Barbara Jaffe of the Supreme Court of the State of New York has signed a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of two chimpanzee plaintiffs of the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), Hercules and Leo.
These are the first two nonhuman beings to be considered legal persons under the common law.
Hercules and Leo, who have been used in research for years, are currently held at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and are “owned” by The New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana. The court case, which was originally dismissed in Brooklyn and then recently re-filed in Manhattan by the NhRP, means that the judge ruled there is sufficient cause for Stony Brook to appear before a court and explain why they are keeping Hercules and Leo captive.
The scientific evidence used by the NhRP for this and the other chimpanzee cases was compiled by The Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy.
There is still a long way to go in the battle to free Hercules and Leo, the other two plaintiffs Kiko and Tommy, and all other chimpanzees being held against their will in captivity. But if the NhRP prevails, Hercules and Leo will probably be ordered to be sent to sanctuary at Save the Chimps, where they will lead lives that are as close as possible to their natural life in the wild. No longer will they be manipulated and constrained for human curiosity. Instead they will be free to make friends and the kinds of decisions all autonomous beings – all persons – want to make about their lives.
This decision has broken through a legal wall that has remained shut tight until now. It sets a precedent which can only facilitate the work of the NhRP and others who know that real cultural change will come when chimpanzee (and other nonhuman animal) rights are acknowledged and respected.