It’s always inspiring to see justice play out before your eyes! After two years of negotiating for the release of captive chimpanzees, it has been decided that the New Iberia Research Center (NIRC) of the University of Louisiana will finally retire 220 chimps, including the famed Hercules and Leo, who have been the focus of much media coverage. All of these lucky chimps will be heading to the Project Chimps sanctuary in Georgia. NIRC plans to retire the chimps gradually over the course of a few years.

Organizations like the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), who have being fighting for Hercules and Leo’s rights for years, celebrated the release, while recognizing the need to continue fighting. “The NhRP intends to do everything possible to ensure that humans and human institutions are never again able to imprison and exploit self-aware and autonomous beings like Hercules and Leo,” said NhRP President Steven M. Wise.

This is no small feat. Both Hercules and Leo are almost ten years old and have been imprisoned for more than half their lives. They spent six years at Stony Brook University, where scientists were studying the evolution of upright walking in humans. This meant these chimps were deprived of their natural homes and underwent painful and inhumane treatment.

Eventually, Stony Brook decided to end testing and transferred the chimps to the New Iberia Research Center, one of the largest and most notorious medical testing facilities. There have been documented cases of extreme abuse, such as an employee of the center hitting a restrained monkey with a pipe and another smacking an infant monkey in the head. When Stony Brook transferred them to NIRC, the research center had agreed to send them to Save the Chimps. According to NhRP, however, NIRC was “acting in bad faith,” and the chimps were instead held captive in New Iberia’s research facility. In other words, Hercules and Leo were imprisoned once again.

Chimps are so similar to us and deserve to receive basic rights and respect. Sharing 90 percent of our DNA, chimpanzees are incredibly intelligent and loving. They form deep family bonds, communicate with each other, and utilize tools. How can we justify the decision to imprison these individuals? Hint: we can’t.

We are so excited that these chimpanzees will finally get the freedom they so desperately deserve. After years of torture, it’s about time that institutions treat chimpanzees as the sentient, emotional, and intelligent beings that they are.

While this is incredible news, the fight is not over. Thousands of chimpanzees and other animals are currently being used around the world in the name of scientific research and testing. We’ve got to keep fighting! To support the incredible work of NhRP, visit their page and consider making a donation to support their litigation efforts.

Featured Image Source: Flickr