By Katie Reilly
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The chimpanzees at the center of a New York State Supreme Court case over the legal rights of animals will no longer be used for research, officials at the State University of New York at Stony Brook said on Friday.
The retirement of the chimps, named Hercules and Leo, follows a failed bid by an animal rights group in state court to get the primates released on legal grounds.
The Nonhuman Rights Project, which advocates for the legal rights of animals, in March sued Stony Brook, where the chimps were used for physiological research.
On Thursday, New York State Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe dismissed the suit, which aimed to get the chimpanzees relocated to a sanctuary in Florida by arguing they had a right not to be living in cages.
They said the animals were intelligent enough to be allowed protections that apply to humans, like relief from unlawful imprisonment.
Lauren Sheprow, a spokeswoman for Stony Brook, said on Friday that the research project had concluded several weeks ago and the chimps would no longer be used for any research at the university. She said Thursday's court ruling did not impact the timing of the animals' retirement.
In a court filing, Jaffe said the precedent set by previous state appeals determined her ruling, but she acknowledged that intelligent animals might someday be entitled to limited legal rights.
"Efforts to extend legal rights to chimpanzees are thus understandable; some day they may even succeed," Jaffe wrote.
"Courts, however, are slow to embrace change, and occasionally seem reluctant to engage in broader, more inclusive interpretations of the law, if only to the modest extent of affording them greater consideration."
Steven Wise, president of the Nonhuman Rights Project, said the group is planning to appeal the ruling but is pleased Hercules and Leo will be no longer be used in research.
"We applaud Stony Brook for finally doing the right thing," Wise said in an email on Friday.
(Editing by Katie Reilly and Sandra Maler)