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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Steven Wise: A Revolutionary

Are We Ready To Accept Animals as Equals?
As Steven Wise's NonHuman Rights Project takes the world by storm, 
soon we will need to be.

Steven M. Wise, founder of the Nonhuman Rights project, is a revolutionary. His organization is the first of its kind to seek to grant chimpanzees “legal personhood” in the state of New York. Wise has had a successful career in animal rights law, and is now making history. His name may gain prominence in the history books as the first man to give animals equal rights.

Wise is a law scholar who specializes in animal protection issues, primatology, and animal intelligence. He has taught  animal rights law at Harvard Law School, Vermont Law School, John Marshall Law School, Lewis & Clark Law School, and Tufts University school of Veterinary Medicine. He was also a keynote speaker at events like TEDx, where he continues to tell the story of the Nonhuman Rights Project. Wise agreed to do a phone interview with Earthscope Media while he was attending a conference in Oregon. As he told us a history of the organization, the specific legal work they have done, and his court arguments, Wise spoke with a strong, eloquent voice.

The Nonhuman Rights Project began in 2007, when after giving years to animal rights law, Wise realized that animals weren’t granted their rights because of a structural problem. In order for animals to have clear rights, they needed to be seen as people in the eyes of the law. With this idea, he started the Nonhuman Rights Project to fight for  “legal personhood” granted to animals who are autonomous. An autonomous being is a being that has self-determination. The Nonhuman Rights Project is working with chimpanzees, elephants, birds, and dolphins. Wise and his team decided to begin with the chimpanzee, who have very similar neurological abilities to the human species.

Chimpanzees are autonomous creatures that can do mathematics, paint, communicate effectively and live with a similar routine to the human life. Wise and his team chose four chimpanzees, Kiko,Tommy, Hercules and Leo to represent in court. Kiko is a privately owned chimpanzee who was kept in a cage in the Niagara Falls; Tommy is also a privately owned chimpanzee who lived in a cage on the edge of at trailer park in Gloversville, NY; and Hercules and Leo were two chimps were being used for locomotive research at the Anatomy Department at Stony Brook University. Wise believes that in order for these chimpanzees to be given rights and freed from their living conditions, they needed to be granted “legal personhood”. If not granted legal personhood, an animal is “invisible” in the eyes of the law.

According to Wise, It took seven years for him and his team to find habeaus corpus, a claim that was used in the 1772 case Somerset vs Stewart. In this case, Slave James Somerset was freed after William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield and the chief justice of the English Court of King’s Bench argued with habeas corpus. For his case, Wise followed the common law of Article 70 of habeaus corpus for their claim to the New York Judges.

Wise also meditated on his collaboration with other animal welfare organizations. In 2011, PETA took SeaWorld to court, fighting for the rights of their dolphins, using the 13th amendment to argue that these animals were slaves. Wise agreed they are slaves, but him and his team knew the case would not pass and appealed to be friends of the court. By doing this, they prevented harm to their future arguments. Since then, they have not encountered any similar cases, but they expect some more in the future. Wise hopes that future cases will have defendants who have carefully educated themselves on animal rights appeals and habeaus corpus. In order for a case to be successful, Wise argues that the defendants have to fully understand all of the complexities of habeaus corpus. He also says that he hopes there will be a collaboration between Nonhuman Rights project and the defendants for these kinds of cases in the future.

Right now, Nonhuman Rights project is working with organizations in seven other countries. They are working with people in England, France, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Argentina, New Zealand and Australia. These cases are in a different legal system with different complexities than those in the United States. With a variety of cases, Wise is currently working with these organizations to prepare strong, thorough arguments. No organization has yet to file a suit. This leaves Wise relieved, as he says that an argument claiming legal personhood takes a lot of time to understand the complexity.

On the differences in culture, Wise commented that currently governments grant animal rights. He says he hopes that his lawsuits in New York will change that, as well as the future law suits the Nonhuman Rights project are currently planning. Wise spoke enthusiastically on a future case in another state that defends the rights of elephants. He also mentioned that in another year, they will be filing a lawsuit in a third state. He comments that the process may take longer, as the team has to find new arguments and a new cause of action. Wise believes that animals other than chimpanzees, like dolphins, whales and elephants, are conscious beings and should also be granted legal personhood.

On July 30th, New York County Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe released a 33 page decision in which she said “for now” she is going to deny Hercules and Leo “legal personhood”, citing the decision to deny “legal personhood” from an appellate court who denied Tommy’s case last year. Tommy’s case is pending a request to review before the New York Court of Appeals. But Wise is keeping a positive outlook. He said that he feels it will take less time for the United States’ public to accept animals as beings with legal personhood than it did when women and slaves were granted the same rights. Wise commented that the similarity of the chimpanzees’ cognitive power and the climbing heap of scientific evidence will help to convince the public. With Wises’ enthusiasm, ambition and eloquence, animal “personhood” can’t be far off. In order to learn more about the Nonhuman Rights project, visit

Izzy Snow, Earthscope Media Intern, July 30th 2015

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Fight for Equality with Animals

The Nonhuman Rights Project is an organization that is fighting for legal rights for species that are other than human. The project was founded in 2007 by Steven M. Wise, who has practiced animal protection law for 30 years,  and grew into a collaborative group of passionate individuals who work together to go against what is written in the law and fight for animals to be granted “personhood” starting with some of the most intelligent animals in the world such as chimpanzees, elephants and dolphins.
Being an intern at Earthscope gave me the pleasurable opportunity to interview Steven M. Wise over the phone. The questions I asked him were based more around the morality of the whole project and his recent struggle in receiving “personhood” for chimpanzees, which he is still fighting to achieve. During the interview, Mr. Wise stated that “There's a big difference between morality and law; sometimes they intersect and sometimes they have nothing to do with each other.” This statement stuck with me because of how realistic it was. Sadly morality doesn’t always play into the justice system–– a big reason I believe why animals currently still have no rights.
Steven M. Wise discussed how he believes and hopes that fighting for animal rights in New York will inspire other countries to do the same. “There are different ways that different countries view animals,” he said. Like Steven Wise said, all countries put different values on different animals which determines how they perceive those animals, sometimes even playing into religious beliefs and whether it's right or wrong to kill a certain animal. I wonder if this will cause issues for The Nonhuman Rights Project  later down the road in spreading animals rights to other countries.
The last question our team asked Steven Wise during the interview was whether or not he thought the world would be a better place if animals had rights. His answer was definitely one of the many highlights of the interview: “I think that giving appropriate rights to humans and nonhuman animals will lead to a better world just all the way around.” Hopefully the fight for animal rights in New York will pass and then spread to other states in the USA, and then hopefully worldwide. Let us fight as right bearing humans for the animals who do not have the capacity to to fight for themselves, and create a better world for everyone and all things.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Why I am a Vegetarian and Interview with Al Baylacq - Co-Owner of Good Earth by Olivia Tait

and my two fellow intern reporters are interviewing Al Baylacq, Co-Owner - at good Earth Foods in Fairfax, a market for organic, natural foods.  Good Earth Foods sells things like herbs, dairy, fruits and vegetables that are sustainable and non GMO foods.
Al says  that going vegetarian is the #1 best thing you could do for your planet. I asked Al how he would advise anyone who is going vegetarian for the first time what they should do. Cows cost the planet a lot of resources that are saved by eating vegetarian. It lessens your eco-footprint. Al says that at first a prospective vegetarian should gradually phase out all meat, perhaps starting with shellfish, then pork, then beef, then chicken and so on - for example.
Then I ask whether he thinks Vegetarianism is a social or personal thing.  Al believes it could be both, but he thinks it is less of a societal thing because the American society is very meat based.
Vegetarianism and veganism are one of my favorite causes because I am a vegetarian  and also because it helps the environment.  Eating meat contributes to greenhouse gases and has been linked to cancer, heart disease, and many other diseases like gout. Vegetarians and vegans have been shown to live longer and have reduced risk of diseases according to Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. For those who can’t live without meat, there are fake meats available that taste like the real thing.
In today’s world of high cancer, diabetes, and heart disease rates there may seem that there is nothing to but go on pills and have stents to avoid them. What many people don’t know is that there is a way to avoid them and dramatically lessen the chances of getting ill. The journal Cancer Epidemology, Biomarkers, and Prevention did a recent study where they looked at  69,000 people  for  more than four years, finding that vegans had a sixteen percent decreased risk of all cancers.

Dr Caldwell Esselstyn published a book on how to defeat heart disease permanently, citing his twelve year study on critical heart disease patients who were in such trouble that one could not walk the length of a city block without needing to sit down. All of the members of the study reversed their heart disease in less than a year on a vegan diet.  A study by Harvard showed that regular meat consumption raised colon cancer risk by 300 percent.  Other studies have shown that  non meat eaters are forty percent less likely to develop cancer than meat eaters.
On the environment, vegetarians and vegans have much less of an impact than meat eaters. Cows that are later rendered into beef and hamburgers are one of the highest influences of methane levels around the world. Methane is a recognized contributor to carbon dioxide. Farmed animals including pigs are the top consumers of water in the US according to PETA- that is more water than the city of Los Angeles which is in a desert. Farming animals kills forestland. Because of that many species go extinct and many trees die that could be used to lessen global warming. Being Vegetarian or Vegan  means that you will not contribute to the crisis of global warming, be less at risk of cancer, and live longer.

Should Animals be Given Legal Rights?

By Julia Asay

Animal rights activists protect animals against cruelty and suffering, and defend the idea that animals should be entitled to their own lives. However, in the United States, animals are classified as ‘legal things’, which makes it harder to protect them, and gives more liberties to human beings to abuse them. One man is making history by filing a law suit on behalf of four captive chimpanzees, that if won would for the first time particular animals would be given legal rights. Steven Wise, a lawyer who has fought for animal rights for the past 30 years, founded the Nonhuman Rights Project with the intent of protecting animals, specifically chimpanzees across the country. Currently, while awaiting the results of one of his trials, I was given the incredible opportunity to interview him.

To fully understand the legal suit, one has to differentiate between humans and legal persons as being different, as even fetuses, corporations, and ships have been established as ‘legal persons’. So then what is the difference between a ‘legal person’ and a ‘legal thing’? Wise explains, “What I see is this kind of thick, legal wall that separates things from persons. So on one side are legal things, and on another are legal persons. And if you’re a legal thing, you are invisible to courts, you don’t have the capacity for rights, you don’t have any rights. You’re essentially a slave for the legal person. If you’re a person you are visible to courts, you have the capacity for rights, you have many rights, and you’re the master of the slaves.” Though, it may sound improbable, it was only during the 20th century that women and children became recognized as ‘legal persons’, so these court cases may in fact be feasible.

The current cases taking place in New York, surround four chimpanzees by the names of Tommy, Kiko, Hercules, and Leo. Tommy and Kiko are both privately owned chimpanzees, while Hercules and Leo are owned by New Iberia Research Center and are rented to Stony Brook University which uses them for research purposes.

Wise is using the writ of Habeus Corpus as the basis of the suit, which is used in law to determine whether an individual is being legally detained. All three petitions for writs of Habeus Corpus have been denied, but have also been re-filed by Wise and his legal team. Hercules and Leo’s case may be the most promising, as Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe issued an Order to Show Cause, requiring a representative of Stony Brooke University to appear in court to justify the captivity of these chimps. Currently, Wise is awaiting Judge Jaffe’s decision, which may come out as early as this week.

The Nonhuman Rights Project works with renowned scientists around the world who have found, based off of genetics, intelligence, and behavioral analysis, that nonhuman animals, specifically apes, dolphins and elephants, are conscious, autonomous beings. These animals have memories, they feel emotions, they have social hierarchies, and they are even capable of using tools. Yet, humans cage them, and use them for whatever purposes we need no matter the physical or emotional toll it takes on the animal.

(Picture provided by the Nonhuman Rights Project Website)

This is a huge step for animal rights, and could potentially open the flood-gates to allowing more animals to gain legal rights, and therefore give harsher punishments to those who violate them. For now the future is still unknown, but Wise remains hopeful, “Whenever we win, then we have to look at why we won, which animal won, and what cause of action won – how broad the decision was. And then we begin to try to widen that to expand the number of animals, to expand the number of rights. And once we begin doing that we have no doubt that others, you know, all over the country, all over the world will begin to jump in and file their own lawsuits as well… and that legislatures are going to start being involved as well. And so it’s just going to kind of open up the area to a reevaluation so that judges and others no longer say well if you’re human, you’re a person, you have rights, and if you’re not a person you don’t have rights.”

If the suit is won, Wise plans to have the chimpanzees relocated to a sanctuary in Ft. Pierce, Florida, called Save the Chimps, where they will reside with 250 other chimpanzees in an environment similar to their natural habitats in Africa. It is a place that will provide these animals sanctuary from the captive lives they have lived as possessions of human beings, and bring hope towards future court cases surrounding animal rights.

For more information on the nonhuman rights project visit