Natalie Prosin, executive director of NhRP, made clear that "personhood" is different than declaring chimps people, and that her group was looking only for one specific right that legal personhood would grant - rather than the "infinite" number of rights humans enjoy. "People get confused," she said. "We're just asking for a very fundamental right, which is the right to bodily liberty."
And if these two chimps are granted freedom at the upcoming hearing, that decision - and its inherent recognition of primates as nonhuman persons - could mean a world of changes for the thousands of primates currently kept in labs and zoos around the country, as recognizing them as persons could entitle them to a whole host of protections they don't currently enjoy.
"They are autonomous, self-aware and self-directed individuals," Prosin said of the chimps. "And their autonomy is not being respected since they are classed as property."
However, similar legal rights for other animals could be much further off. According to Prosin, there's no scientific evidence that would hold up in court to support the autonomy of animals besides great apes, elephants and cetaceans. "Those are the ones that we're focusing on," she said.