Nonhuman Rights Project Expands Mission and Work Beyond the Courtroom
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Nonhuman Rights Project
November 2016

As chimpanzee cases enter their latest phase and preparation for first elephant lawsuit nears completion, new NhRP staff are helping to build a national and global movement to win legal personhood and rights for nonhuman animals.

Nearly three years after the NhRP began its litigation campaign on behalf of four captive chimpanzees in New York State, the organization is moving into the public sphere and planning for continued expansion in the US and worldwide.

Two new staff members—Director of Public Affairs and Government Relations Matthew Dominguez and Campaigns Director Lisa Rainwater—will develop issue-oriented grassroots campaigns, implement a new program to empower and mobilize volunteers, and build a broad-based coalition of organizations and individuals united under the banner of the nonhuman rights mission.

“The NhRP’s expansion signals our continued commitment to using every tool available to effectively represent our clients—nonhuman animals—in having their fundamental rights recognized by law,” said NhRP President Steven M. Wise.

Designed to promote recognition of nonhuman rights at the local level in tandem with litigation, the campaigns will focus on ballot initiatives, referenda, ordinances, and calls to action. Coalition building will include outreach to and partnerships with animal protection, civil liberties, social justice, public interest, and environmental advocates, among many others.
At the same time, the NhRP will continue to work with teams of lawyers and animal advocates in countries outside the US to develop rights-based legislative and/or litigation campaigns suited to their respective legal systems.

Helping to foster the NhRP’s organizational growth is its new Director of Development Sue Lee K. Troutman, who has worked with various civil and human rights organizations, including the Center for Constitutional Rights, Equality Now, and the National LGBTQ Task Force.


On Oct. 28, the NhRP filed a new appeal in Tommy’s case with the Appellate Division, First Department in Manhattan. The appeal comes in response to the New York County Supreme Court’s Dec. 23, 2015 denial of the NhRP’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus on Tommy’s behalf. Concerns that Tommy’s owner had moved him out of state and potentially beyond the jurisdiction of New York courts delayed for months the filing of Tommy’s appeal. After having engaged a private investigative firm to find Tommy, the NhRP legal team has determined it is time to pursue the appeal and seek a hearing in the First Department.

On Nov. 1, after having engaged a private investigative firm to verify Kiko’s whereabouts, the NhRP filed a petition for a writ of mandamus in Kiko’s case to compel a hearing on his appeal in accordance with New York common law and its habeas corpus statute.

The NhRP legal team is finalizing the first-ever habeas corpus petition on behalf of captive elephants. The NhRP will disclose the plaintiff(s) and their location(s) to the public on the day it files the case—likely in early 2017.

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About the Nonhuman Rights Project

Founded in 1996 by attorney Steven M. Wise, the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) is the only civil rights organization working through the common law to achieve actual legal rights for members of species other than our own. Our mission is to change the common law status of at least some nonhuman animals from mere “things,” which lack the capacity to possess any legal right, to “persons,” who possess such fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty and those other legal rights to which evolving standards of morality, scientific discovery, and human experience entitle them. Our current plaintiffs are members of species who have been scientifically proven to be self-aware and autonomous: currently, great apes, elephants, dolphins, and whales. We are also working with teams of attorneys on four continents to develop campaigns to achieve legal rights for nonhuman animals that are suited to the respective legal systems of these countries. Our first cases were filed in December of 2013.

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