The two chimpanzees housed at Stony Brook University will not be granted the personhood necessary to allow them to challenge their captivity, a state Supreme Court judge ruled in an animal rights advocacy group’s lawsuit against the school.
Justice Barbara Jaffe ruled in her July 30 decision that Hercules and Leo, the two male chimps used for research at Stony Brook University’s Department of Anatomical Sciences, would not be granted a “writ of habeas corpus,” as petitioned for in the Nonhuman Rights Project’s suit against the university. The animal rights group had petitioned the judge with hopes of forcing the university to move the chimps to the Florida-based Save the Chimps animal sanctuary.
“The similarities between chimpanzees and humans inspire the empathy felt for a beloved pet,” Jaffe said in her decision. “Efforts to extend legal rights to chimpanzees are thus understandable; someday they may even succeed. For now, however, given the precedent to which I am bound it is hereby ordered that the petition for a writ of habeas corpus is denied.”
Jaffe cited previous suits the Nonhuman Rights Project had headed up, including one referencing a chimpanzee named Tommy who was being held through Circle L Trailers in Gloversville, NY. In that case, the Fulton County Supreme Court dismissed the Nonhuman Rights Project’s appeal to have the chimp released.
Steven Wise, president of the Nonhuman Rights Project, said his group was still looking forward to appealing Jaffe’s decision to the state Supreme Court’s Appellate Division’s first judicial department.
“Unlike Justice Jaffe, [the first judicial department] is not bound by the decision of the Third Department in Tommy’s case,” Wise said in a statement.
Despite the judge’s ruling, Susan Larson, an anatomical sciences professor at SBU, previously said both Hercules and Leo will retire from the facility’s research center and be gone by September. Larson did not return requests for comment.
The Nonhuman Rights Project, however, said it would work to ensure the chimps are released to a sanctuary nevertheless.
“We applaud Stony Brook for finally doing the right thing,” Lauren Choplin of the Nonhuman Rights Project wrote on the group’s website. “We have made it clear that we remain willing to assist Stony Brook in sending Hercules and Leo to Save the Chimps in Ft. Pierce, Florida, where we have arranged for them to be transferred, or to have an appropriate member sanctuary of the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance, as we did in Tommy’s case. We have made it equally clear that, if Stony Brook attempts to move Hercules and Leo to any other place, we will immediately seek a preliminary injunction to prevent this move pending the outcome of all appeals, as we succeeded in doing in Tommy’s case last year.”
New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana owns the chimps, and their next destination was not clear.
The court first ordered the school to show cause and writ of habeas corpus — a command to produce the captive person and justify their detention — but struck out the latter on April 21, one day after releasing the initial order, making it a more administrative move simply prompting the university to defend why it detains the animals.
In an earlier press release from 2013, the Nonhuman Rights Project said the chimpanzee plaintiffs are “self-aware” and “autonomous” and therefore should have the same rights as humans. Hercules and Leo are currently being used in a locomotion research experiment in SBU’s Department of Anatomical Sciences.