As It Happens

New York chimps granted 'habeas corpus' hearing, same basic legal rights as humans

They may be chimps, but Hercules and Leo are going to get their day in court. The apes have been used as research animals at New York's Stony Brook University. Now, a group called the Nonhuman Rights Project is trying to get Hercules and Leo released to a sanctuary.
Two chimpanzees in the Save the Chimps sanctuary. (SavetheChimps.org)

They may be chimps, but Hercules and Leo are going to get their day in court.

The apes have been used as research animals at New York's Stony Brook University. Now, a group called the Nonhuman Rights Project has taken the school to court in an effort to have Hercules and Leo released to a sanctuary.

Yesterday, the judge in the case issued a writ of habeas corpus. The activists say that makes Hercules and Leo the first animals to enjoy the same basic legal rights as humans.

"We never file a habeas corpus lawsuit on behalf of a non-human animal unless we have already arranged for them to go somewhere," Steven Wise, president of the Nonhuman Rights Project, tells As It Happens host Carol Off.

The group wants to put Hercules and Leo in a south Florida chimpanzee sanctuary called Save the Chimps. The Nonhuman Rights Project has not been inside Stony Brook University to see the animals.

"I don't think they have any idea about what the world is like outside of their labs," Wise says. "They're very young chimpanzees. They were born into captivity. They have no idea that there is such a space as Save the Chimps. Or there are places where there's grass, and there's trees and blue sky."

But how can the group know what kind of life the chimpanzees would choose if they were able to?

"Our experts would say that, given the choice, they have no doubt that they would want to live with other chimpanzees in a warm environment," he says.

The habeas corpus hearing is currently scheduled for May 6.

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