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Judge Dismisses Case That Sought To Give Chimpanzees "Personhood"

In her 33-page decision, a New York judge dismissed a case that sought to give chimpanzees the same rights as people, but noted that efforts to do so may some day succeed.

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Two chimpanzees in a New York university will not be freed nor declared "legal persons," a judge ruled Thursday, dealing a blow to an animal rights group that looked to give them the same rights as people.

The decision, handed down Thursday, involved a lawsuit filed by the Nonhuman Rights Project against Stony Brook University on Long Island, which sought to have two 8-year-old chimpanzees freed from the university and transferred to a sanctuary in Florida.

The Nonhuman Rights Project tried to challenge the detention of the two chimpanzees, Hecules and Leo, with a writ of habeas corpus, a motion prisoners can use to challenge their imprisonment.

But Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe on Thursday struck down the argument in a 33-page decision, stating she was bound by decisions handed down by previous, similar cases.

Had it been successful, the motion could have afforded legal rights not just to chimpanzees but other animals as well, the judge noted in her decision.

According to the Associated Press, the two chimpanzees were being used by the university for locomotion studies.

To support their argument for personhood, attorneys for the Nonhuman Rights Project filed several affidavits by zoologists, psychologists, and primatologists regarding the cognitive abilities of chimps and their similarity to humans in DNA composition, communication, and self-awareness.

"The similarities between chimpanzees and humans inspire empathy felt for a beloved pet," Jaffe wrote. "Efforts to extend legal rights to chimpanzees are thus understandable; some day they may even succeed."

At the moment, Jaffe noted, she was bound by a higher court's decision regarding another chimpanzee, named Tommy, where it was ruled that Tommy was property and not a person.

The Nonhuman Rights Project issued a statement shortly after Jaffe issued her decision, saying they were "looking forward to promptly appealing Justice Jaffe's thoughtful and comprehensive decision."

Salvador Hernandez is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.

Contact Salvador Hernandez at

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