Remembering Steven Wise — an Advocate for Animal Personhood


Upon hearing of the passing of their dear friend Steven Wise, Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, and Koen Margodt, PhD, shared the following heart-felt reflection on a life of hope and impact:

We are deeply saddened by the tragic passing away of our dear friend Steven Wise, following a long battle with disease. Steve was a pioneer for the recognition of great apes and other animals as legal persons. He has fought all his life in court to obtain respect for the dignity and autonomy of animals. Steve wanted animals not to be treated as things or property, but as the amazing individuals that they are — living beings with feelings, emotions, preferences, personalities and minds of their own.

Steve followed legal steps to obtain better lives for animals. As a lawyer he knew how to build a calm, rational plea based upon logic and arguments. Steve has been humiliated by some judges, who thought his endeavours for animals were utter nonsense — one of them let him travel time and again to his courtroom, as a kind of teasing, if not bullying. Steve took it all calmly and continued following the path he firmly believed in.

Fortunately, other judges and legal scholars have expressed their direct or indirect support in legal opinions. We remember some of the cases so well — and even when a case was lost, it nevertheless moved the battle for animal rights forward and further into the limelight.  And that, along with all the hours he spent teaching eager students, all the lectures and interviews he gave, has steadily altered the way so many people, including those within law, think about the place of animals in our legal system and in our society as a whole.

If you have not done so yet, please read his wonderful book Rattling the Cage, which Dr. Jane Goodall called “the animals’ Magna Carta, Declaration of Independence, and Universal Declaration of Rights all in one”,  and watch the documentary Unlocking the Cage. One day animals will receive the dignity and respect that they deserve, morally and legally. Steve will be remembered as a giant pioneer, who trailed the path towards a better future for animals with all legal means available. Thank you so much for all you’ve done, Steve. We will continue along this path. Steve was a wonderful friend, and although we did not interact all that often, we felt very close to him, and will miss him greatly.

Steve did as much as anyone to help animals and more than most.  During the years stretching ahead more legal victories on behalf of animals will be won, and so much of this steady progression towards true justice will be traced back to Steve’s pioneering efforts. Jane has imagined Steve arriving in the place we go when we have lived a good life and being greeted by so many grateful animals, lined up and clamouring to give him a rousing “THANK YOU, STEVE.” Our thoughts and prayers are with his partner Gail and children Christopher, Roma and Siena. The only saving grace is that he is no longer suffering. Rest in Peace, Steve.

Jane Goodall, PhD, DBE, Founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and UN Messenger of Peace 

Koen Margodt, PhD,

Read Steven’s impactful book, 🔗 Rattling The Cage: Toward Legal Rights For Animals.

About Author

Jane Goodall is a passionate road warrior, traveling nearly 300 days each year on a worldwide speaking tour to raise awareness, inspire change, and encourage each of us to do our part in making the world a better place. Jane's love for animals started at a young age and in July of 1960, at the age of 26, she followed her dreams and traveled from England to what is now Tanzania, to bravely enter the little-known world of wild chimpanzees. She was equipped with nothing more than a notebook and a pair of binoculars, but with her unyielding patience and optimism, she won the trust of the Gombe chimpanzees, and opened a window into their lives for all to see. Jane's studies has taught humanity one of the most important lessons - that we humans are not the only beings on this planet with personalities, minds capable of thinking and above all, emotions. Her findings shook the scientific community and made us re-evaluate what it means to be human.