Remembering Steven Wise: Animal Rights Lawyer And Fearless Trailblazer

March 2, 2024

Steven M. Wise, a passionate animal rights lawyer who argued for the rights of animals and gave a voice to great apes, elephants, and whales, has died at age 73 at his home in Coral Springs, Florida, after an extended illness. He was an inspiring legal force for all animals and dedicated his life to advocating for their rights and being their voice. 

Mr. Wise's contribution to the animal rights movement was enormous and dates back to the time he attended a farmers market with his family and saw a vendor selling chickens in small cages. Even in his youth he advocated for animals, and at age 11 wrote a letter to complain about the living conditions of the birds for sale. He went on to become a vegetarian and stopped wearing leather.

Then in 1980, after a friend gave him a book by Australian philosopher Peter Singer called “Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals” (1975), there was no stopping him and he decided to protect animals through the law. His revolutionary animal rights cases made national news even if they failed in court. He was dedicated to making a difference and spent his life raising awareness while paving the way for future lawyers to follow in his compassionate footsteps.

His passing is a huge loss to the animal rights community. Mr. Wise is survived by his wife of 20 years, Gail Price-Wise, his children, Roma Augusta and her husband, Michael Augusta, Siena Wise, Christopher Wise, his stepdaughter, Mariana Price, and his brother, Robert Wise. He also leaves behind his canine companion, Yogi.


Author And Educator

His successful career included writing several highly praised books about animals and the legal system, including “Rattling the Cage: Toward Legal Rights for Animals” (2000), an unprecedented book about the wall separating non-humans from human animals.

Mr. Wise influenced generations of students by becoming the first person ever to teach a law school course on animal rights in 1990. He also lectured at Stanford Law School and in 2000 became the first person to teach an animal rights course at Harvard University. He impacted generations of law students around the world and taught animal rights law at Tel Aviv University in Israel and at University of Barcelona in Spain. Through his teachings and trials, he became integral to the overall development of animal rights law.  

Founder Of NonHuman Rights Project

Mr. Wise founded the Nonhuman Rights Project in 1995, an organization in the United States dedicated to securing rights for nonhuman animals. Their “groundbreaking work challenges an archaic, unjust legal status quo that views and treats all nonhuman animals as legal “things” with no rights. As with human rights, nonhuman rights are based on fundamental values and principles of justice such as liberty, autonomy, equality, and fairness.”

Nonhuman Rights Project clients have included seven chimpanzee prisoners held captive in a roadside zoo in Michigan; wild-born elephants Mari and Vaigai taken from their herd in India and imported to the US; chimpanzees Hercules and Leo used for research in a university lab; Kiko the chimpanzee being held captive in a storefront in Niagara Falls; an elephant named Happy at the Bronx Zoo that has been alone since 2006; and Tommy, a chimpanzee that passed away in 2022. Tommy lived all alone in a cage on a trailer lot in New York, and his legal case attempted to establish new rights for animals due to the lawsuit filed on his behalf.

 Regardless of what animal species Mr. Wise was advocating for, he fearlessly fought for their rights and worked tirelessly to end the injustices nonhuman animals sustain. His court cases inspired debates around the world about what nonhuman animals are legally entitled to. 

Animal Legal Defence Fund

Mr. Wise was the president of the Animal Legal Defence Fund for ten years. This legal advocacy organization helps protect animals used in research, captive animals, companion animals, farmed animals, and wildlife, by filing high-impact lawsuits to protect them. They also provide free legal assistance and training to prosecutors as they fight against cruelty to animals.

“Steve’s contribution to the animal rights movement is truly immeasurable. And while we mourn the passing of this exceptional human, the Animal Legal Defense Fund will endeavor to honor Steve’s legacy by continuing to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system.

Their advocacy work for farmed animals aligns with the famous Canadian Pig Trial when the founder and executive director of Animal Save Movement, Anita Krajnc, was found not guilty of mischief charge for giving water to thirsty pigs on the way to slaughter in 2017. Her lawyers argued that pigs are persons and not property.

Unlocking the cage

    Unlocking The Cage directed by Chris Hegedus and D.A Pennebaker is a 2016 Emmy-nominated documentary features Mr. Wise and his legal team as they attempt to break down the legal walls separating animals from humans. The film covers their groundbreaking lawsuits that relentlessly attempt to transform a legal system that does not recognize animals as having rights. In the film, Mr. Wise argues on behalf of four captive chimpanzees in New York State

    “Unlocking the Cage captures a monumental shift in our culture, as the public and judicial system show increasing receptiveness to Steve’s impassioned arguments. It is an intimate look at the lawsuit that could forever transform our legal system, and one man’s lifelong quest to protect “nonhuman” animals.”

    The global impact of Mr. Wise's work for nonhuman animals and their legal standing has been huge, and he helped pave the way for the future of animal rights laws and aspiring lawyers. His legacy will live on forever and he will be deeply missed.

    Written by Miriam Porter


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