chimpanzee (Wikimedia Commons/Kabir Bakie)
Two Chimpanzees named Leo and Hercules, will have their futures decided in Manhattan court as a judge rules whether they are "persons." [Representation Pic]Wikimedia Commons/Kabir Bakie

For the first time in US history, a New York judge has granted two chimpanzees the right to challenge their unlawful imprisonment through human attorneys.

The two Chimpanzees, Leo and Hercules, are held in captivity at Long Island's Brook University. Come May, a New York court will hear lawyers debate over the petition whether the Chimpanzees are "legal persons" who deserve to be released.

The petition, filed by Florida-based Nonhuman Rights Project on behalf of the two chimps, came up for hearing before Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe on 20 April.

After Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe allowed the petition, the animal rights activists jubilantly announced that it was the closest the country has had come to accepting the captive chimps as "persons".

"She never says explicitly that our non-human plaintiffs were persons but by issuing the order ... she's either saying implicitly that they are or that they certainly can be. So that's the first time that has happened," Steven Wise, the lawyer fighting for the Chimps, told The Guardian.

Even as the rights groups are adamant over a "legal person" status, a spokesperson for Judge Jaffe has denied that the judge implied personhood to the chimpanzees.

"She did not say that a chimpanzee is a person. She just gave them the opportunity to argue their case," David Bookstaver told the New York Daily News.

The hearing of the case has been scheduled for 6 May. The pair of Chimpanzees is not expected to attend the hearing.

Meanwhile, an Argentinean court created history in 2014 by granting "human legal rights status" to Sandra - an orangutan who has lived in the Buenos Aires Zoo for 20 years.