Leo and Hercules had been held in captivity at (NIRC) until they were each a year old. In 2009, they were sent to the Department of Anatomical Sciences at Stony Brook University.
Leo, one of two chimps named in a 2013 New York Supreme Court case, have been retired to Project Chimps in north Georgia. Image credit: Crystal Alba/Project Chimps.
There in a basement laboratory, the chimps were part of a non-invasive study in which researchers inserted fine-wire electrodes into their muscles to learn how humans evolved to walk upright on two legs.
The Nonhuman Rights Project filed a petition in New York State Supreme Court, Suffolk County to demand recognition of Hercules’ and Leo’s legal personhood and right to bodily liberty.
In July 2015, a New York judge dismissed that lawsuit.
A public advocacy campaign to remove the chimps from research followed, even gaining support from Dr. Jane Goodall.
Six months after the lawsuit was dismissed, NIRC retired Leo and Hercules from research and they were returned to the Louisiana research facility.
When they arrived last week at Project Chimps after a 14-hour journey, they immediately began exploring the front porch of their new home and getting to know their new caregivers.
Located on the site of a former gorilla sanctuary, Project Chimps is the newest chimpanzee sanctuary in the United States.
The first chimps began arriving in 2016. In conjunction with NIRC, Project Chimps plans to move the remaining population of chimps to the sanctuary in phases.
While the sanctuary is not open to the public, they will be hosting "discovery days" on May 19 - 20 when members of the public can take part in free educational activities and ticketed tours of the sanctuary.