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Open Letter and Petition Demanding Sanctuary for Hercules and Leo

By Steven Wise

Hercules and Leo are nine-year-old chimpanzees “owned” by the University of Louisiana’s New Iberia Research Center. Six years ago, when they were infants, New Iberia rented the two to Stony Brook University on Long Island. Ever since they have been imprisoned there, forced to live solitary lives in a cage within a building on the Stony Brook campus. The purpose of this chimpanzee slavery has been to allow a professor in the Anatomy Department to indulge her curiosity on the vitally important question of how humans evolved straight legs.

The lives of Hercules and Leo at Stony Brook have been miserable. They live without the companionship of other chimpanzees in violation of National Institutes of Health (“NIH”) guidelines. They have been required to undergo general anesthesia dozens of times. Researchers thrust wires into their bodies. Their heads are frequently shaved. They have not received the stimulation, companionship, and education that such extraordinarily intelligent and autonomous beings require. As a result, our chimpanzee experts have made clear that Hercules and Leo have almost certainly suffered severe emotional and mental trauma.

You may remember Hercules and Leo. In April of 2015, the Nonhuman Rights Project sought an Order to Show Cause under New York’s Habeas Corpus Statute in the New York County Supreme Court in Manhattan on their behalf. For the first time ever, a Justice issued the Order to Show Cause and required Stony Brook to defend their imprisonment of Hercules and Leo in open court.

On July 29, 2015, the Justice, again for the first time, ruled that a human or corporation, who was not injured, had standing to bring suit on behalf of nonhuman animals who were. The Justice agreed with nearly all of the Nonhuman Rights Project’s arguments. But, over the NhRP’s objection, the Court felt itself bound by an adverse decision of an Albany appellate court, and dismissed their case. The NhRP immediately appealed and its appeal is pending.

Meanwhile, before the decision even came down, the Nonhuman Rights Project had been working with the New York Attorney General, Stony Brook, and Save the Chimps, one of the premier chimpanzee sanctuaries in the world, to transfer Hercules and Leo to Save the Chimps in Ft. Pierce, Florida. There Hercules and Leo will live the rest of their long lives on one of 12 three-to-five acre islands located within a huge artificial lake, with dozens of other chimpanzees, in an environment as close to that of their natural home in Africa as can be found in North America. Importantly for Hercules and Leo, Save the Chimps has an enormous amount of experience rehabilitating severely emotionally and mentally traumatized chimpanzees.

To expedite this transfer, Save the Chimps extended an extraordinarily generous offer to New Iberia to take Hercules and Leo, at no cost to New Iberia or Stony Brook, for the rest of their lives. This is expected to cost Save the Chimps about $32,000 per year. Given a chimpanzee’s typical life expectancy, Save the Chimps will thereby save taxpayers millions of dollars, while Hercules and Leo will live the happy life, with dozens of other chimpanzees, they so richly deserve.

However, New Iberia petulantly refuses to allow Hercules and Leo to go to Save the Chimps. New Iberia imprisons approximately 230 chimpanzees and is among the largest primate research facilities in the country. New Iberia’s horrific and repeated abuse of nonhuman primates is well documented. Just view this one news report from ABC’s Nightline and the picture is both clear and beyond belief. The NhRP can only think of one reason for New Iberia’s intransigence: it does not want to world to see what Hercules and Leo have suffered.

Today, after four months of fruitless negotiation with New Iberia, the Nonhuman Rights Project began a campaign to Free Hercules and Leo, and transfer them to Save the Chimps. Jane Goodall has said this about the campaign: “I have followed the sad lives of both Hercules and Leo to date, and I urge New Iberia to allow them to retire and live out the remainder of their lives with dignity. They have suffered long enough, and there can be no excuse for prolonging their lives of servitude.”

We are asking those who care about Hercules and Leo to sign our petition, write, email, and call Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Dr. Sandra Woodley and demand that they finally do the right thing by Hercules and Leo, that is, send them to Save the Chimps for the rest of their lives and save taxpayers millions of dollars in the process.


Steven M. Wise, Esq., President

Nonhuman Rights Project


Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal

You can email the Governor using this form.

Mailing address: PO Box 94004, Baton Rouge, LA 70804-9004

Phone: 225-342-7015 or 866-366-1121 (Toll Free)


Dr. Sandra K. Woodley, President, University of Louisiana System


Mailing address: Office of the President, 1201 North Third Street, Suite 7-300, Baton Rouge, LA 70802

Phone: 225-342-6950

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