(Phelan M. Ebenhack/MCT)

Shakey, one of the chimpanzees formerly housed at the Holloman Air Base facility, peers out of a metal barrier behind the living quarters of one of the islands at the Save the Chimps sanctuary outside Ft. Pierce, Florida. Had the Nonhuman Rights Project’s petition succeeded, Hercules and Leo would have been moved to the same sanctuary. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/MCT)

A New York County Supreme Court judge has denied legal rights to two chimpanzees used for Stony Brook University research in a lawsuit filed by an animal rights advocacy organization asking for the chimps’ release.

Justice Barbara Jaffe issued the decision on Thursday after the Nonhuman Rights Project sued the university on behalf of Hercules and Leo, the two male chimpanzees owned by New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana, who are used for locomotion research by the university’s Department of Anatomical Sciences.

In the decision, Jaffe denied the Nonhuman Rights Project’s petition for “writ of habeas corpus,” which would have given the chimps the human right to challenge their captivity. The petition asked the judge to order for Hercules and Leo to be released from the university and moved to Save the Chimps, a Florida sanctuary.

“The similarities between chimpanzees and humans inspire the empathy felt for a beloved pet,” Jaffe wrote in her decision. “Efforts to extend legal rights to chimpanzees are thus understandable; someday they may even succeed.”

However, she wrote that she was bound to follow the ruling in a previous lawsuit filed by the Nonhuman Rights Project for the release of another chimpanzee living in New York. The complaint was filed on behalf of Tommy, a male chimp living on a lot owned by Circle L Trailers in Gloversville.

The Fulton County Supreme Court dismissed Tommy’s case, and the Nonhuman Rights Project seeks to appeal to the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals in Albany.

Newsday reported on Friday that Susan Larson, an anatomical sciences professor at Stony Brook, said that Hercules and Leo will retire from Stony Brook research and leave the university by September. However, Steven Wise, a lawyer who is the president and founder of the Nonhuman Rights Project, said his group will go forward with an appeal and will file action against the university if the chimps are not released to a sanctuary.

“We’ve been trying to get (the chimps) into a sanctuary for one-and-a-half years now,” Wise said in an interview with The Statesman. “We will not allow them to be sent to place where they aren’t taken care of.”

Larson did not immediately return a phone call from The Statesman.

Jaffe held a hearing on May 27 for Stony Brook University to justify its custody of two chimpanzees.

New York Assistant Attorney General Christopher Coulston, who represented Stony Brook at the hearing, argued that a distinction must be made between nonhumans and humans in order to avoid a “slippery slope.”

“I think these rights that have evolved related to human interest that’s an important thing that we would lose,” Coulston said according to a transcript of the hearing. “I worry about the diminishment of these rights in some way if we expand them beyond human rights.”

The Nonhuman Rights Project first filed a lawsuit for Hercules and Leo in December 2013 in the Suffolk County Supreme Court, which denied the petition without a hearing.

After the New York Supreme Court’s Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department in Brooklyn dismissed the appeal in April 2014, the group refiled its petition in March 2015 in the New York County Supreme Court.

The Nonhuman Rights Project also filed a third lawsuit on the behalf of Kiko, a male chimp that lives in The Primate Sanctuary in Niagara Falls. This lawsuit was dismissed by Niagara County Supreme Court, and the Nonhuman Rights Project seeks to appeal to the Court of Appeals.