For the first time in US history, a judge has decreed that a pair of chimpanzees held at a university research facility are covered by the same laws that govern the detention of humans, effectively rendering the animals as legal "people" in the eyes of the law. New York Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe said that the apes, held at Stony Brook University for research purposes, are covered by a writ of habeas corpus — a basic legal principle that lets people challenge the validity of their detention.
The decision comes two years after the Nonhuman Rights Project, an animal rights group, brought legal cases in a bid to free four chimpanzees. The group said the animals — Hercules and Leo at Stony Brook university, and two others on private property — were being unlawfully imprisoned, and should be relocated to a sanctuary. Three lower court judges dismissed the cases as they were raised in 2013, but the Nonhuman Rights Project appealed, eventually convincing Jaffe that the animals were sufficiently intelligent to grant them what amounts to basic human rights.