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Nonhuman animals have long been considered legal “things” that lack capacity for legal rights.This has allowed them to be mercilessly exploited by legal “persons” who possess legal rights. At one time millions of humans were also “things” and much civil rights work since has been to change their legal status from “things” to “persons.”
The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) extends that struggle to nonhuman animals, beginning with great apes, elephants, and cetaceans. To advance this work, Steven Wise founded the NhRP, has taught “Animal Rights Jurisprudence” at numerous law schools including Harvard and Vermont (since 1990), and written four books, including Rattling the Cage: Toward Legal Rights for Animals and Though the Heavens May Fall, which tells how a 1772 London lawsuit ended human slavery in England. He lectures around the globe and his work is the subject of the 2016 D.A. Pennebaker/Chris Hegedus film, Unlocking the Cage featured on on HBO.