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Penny Conly EllisonPenny Conly Ellison ()

Probably the biggest hurdle to ­bringing lawsuits to protect animals is the fact that animals are considered property under the law. The ramifications of that legal status cannot be overstated. It means, among other things, that the law does not recognize their suffering as a compensable harm in a tort case, that they cannot enforce the protections afforded them by statutes such as the Endangered Species Act or the Animal Welfare Act and that, as far as the law is concerned, their value is limited to their replacement cost. For decades, animal lawyers and ethicists have tried to chip away at this property status as a means of attaining some kind of rights for animals. Most recently, Steven Wise and the Nonhuman Rights Project have received a fair amount of press attention for their battle in the courts of New York to establish rights for captive chimpanzees. The chimps, as named petitioners, are using the common law of habeus corpus to challenge the ­legality of their detention just as other “unjustly ­incarcerated beings” have done throughout history. While years of research have gone into arriving at such creative legal theories and determining the best forum to raise those kinds of novel arguments, having a court grant the habeas corpus petition of a captive chimpanzee is still asking for quite a large leap.

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