New York state's Supreme Court has granted a hearing to an animal rights group that seeks to prove that captivating chimpanzees equals to unlawful imprisonment of humans because they are intelligent creatures.
The Nonhuman Rights Project group requested the hearing in order to secure freedom for two chimps - Hercules and Leo - held by the State University of New York at Stony Brook on Long Island.
The court order issued on Monday by Barbara Jaffe, a New York state Supreme Court justice in Manhattan, requires that the university defend its right in court to keep the primates.
The university did not immediately return a request from the Reuters news agency asking for comment on Tuesday.
The rights group wants Leo and Hercules, who are used in research on physical movement, to be sent to a sanctuary in Florida.
To achieve that, the court needs to find that chimps have at least some limited rights traditionally reserved for humans.
The hearing, in which the university will be represented by the New York state attorney general's office, is scheduled for May 6.