Animals must have right , too — Steve Wise and the Nonhuman Rights Project made a powerful new film documentary “Unlocking the Cage” to show the non-belivers why. It chronicles Wise’s ongoing challenge to change U.S. law to recognise higher-level animals as “persons”. Wise raises a number of interesting questions, in this behind-the-scenes film of the legal procedure, that captures the lawyer’s a challenge with a series of New York state judges, to establish, in law, that chimpanzees should have the same rights as humans.

'Unlocking the Cage' will be shown on BBC4 on Wed 22nd June at 9pm

Focusing on the legal notion of “personhood”, a classification extended to corporations under U.S. law — Wise argues that a number of species should be entitled to some, or all, of the same rights as US citizens. He begins by identifying great apes, elephants and cetaceans (dolphins and whales) as the most deserving species, through candid conversations with other animal welfare experts, makes it clear that he hopes that such protections might eventually be extended to dogs and cats as well.

If Wise is to succeed , he would be the principal engineer in a massive overhaul of how humans view their animal neighbours. But in changing the paradigm, NhRP’s challenge finds a loophole by which they can alter U.S. law. And so begins, Wise’s search  to find a judge willing to establish a radical new precedent, wherein the “great writ” of habeas corpus, designed to free those who are wrongfully imprisoned, could be extended to an animal in captivity.

Now well respected as an animal-rights lecturer at Harvard and other universities, Steve Wise is eloquent on this complex legal issue. To bolster his case, the filmmakers include a number of animal and scientific experts to explain that great apes are both aware of their captivity and capable of communicating their distress.

Mission, Goals and Values

The mission of the Nonhuman Rights Project is, through education and litigation, 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.

See the complete statement of Mission, Goals, and Code of Values of the Nonhuman Rights Project.


Articles and books by the Nonhuman Rights Project are here.

Board of Directors

Steven M. Wise, President of the Nonhuman Rights Project, Inc., holds a J.D. from Boston University Law School and a B.S. in Chemistry from the College of William and Mary. He has practiced animal protection law for 30 years throughout the United States and is admitted to the Massachusetts Bar.

Steve teaches “Animal Rights Jurisprudence” at several law schools and is the author of four books: Rattling the Cage – Toward Legal Rights for Animals; Drawing the Line – Science and the Case for Animal Rights; Though the Heavens May Fall – The Landmark Trial That Led to the End of Human Slavery; and An American Trilogy – Death, Slavery, and Dominion Along the Banks of the Cape Fear River.A fuller bio, including all his publications, is here.

Jane Goodall has been teaching the world about the culture and lives of chimpanzees since 1960. Her pioneering work with the chimpanzees of Gombe National Park in Tanzania, changed the way in which people view chimpanzees and, subsequently, all other animals. Her research has forced humans to completely rethink how animals perceive the world, and how this correlates into how we treat them.

Jane’s efforts have expanded far beyond her early days as a lone field biologist. Today, she travels over 300 days of the year as an advocate for animal protection, conservation and environmentalism. She is the Founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and of Roots and Shoots, in 1991 she launched Roots & Shoots, an environmental and humanitarian program for preschool through college-age students that now has over 150,000 members in more than 120 countries.

Gail Price-Wise is the founder and President of the nonprofit Florida Center for Cultural Competence, Inc., which trains health care providers to work more effectively with minority populations. She is a past President of the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) Alumni Council and a past President of the Harvard Club of Broward County.

Gail received her Master’s degree in 1986 from the Harvard School of Public Health in Health Policy and Management. She has served on the board of Broward Healthy Start, and for ten years she oversaw projects at Management Sciences for Health, an international health agency. She also works as a consultant to small non-profits developing strategic plans.

The Team

Steve Wise is President of the Nonhuman Rights Project, Inc.

Kevin Schneider is Executive Director of the NhRP.

Monica Miller leads the NhRP’s Legal Working Group.

Elizabeth Stein is an attorney with the NhRP.

Sarah Stone is an attorney with the NhRP.

Lauren Choplin is the NhRP’s Communications Manager.

More info on the Nonhuman Rights Project: