Are These Zoo Elephants Entitled to Legal ‘Personhood’?

When elephants get lawyered up, watch out. Three captive zoo elephants in Connecticut are making a bid for legal personhood with the help of the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP).

The three gray ladies — Beulah, Minnie and Karen — currently belong to the the R.W. Commerford and Sons Traveling Petting Zoo in Goshen, Connecticut. Ranging in age from 33 to 50, the elephants have lived at this zoo for three decades now.

The NhRP filed a petition for a common law writ of habeas corpus in Connecticut Superior Court, asking that the court recognize the elephants as legal persons with the fundamental right to bodily liberty.

Elephants roaming free and happy, as they should be.   Photo credit: Thinkstock

Elephants roaming free and happy, as they should be.
Photo credit: Thinkstock

“This is not an animal welfare case,” said attorney and NhRP president Steven Wise in a press release. “We do not claim the Commerford Zoo is violating any animal welfare statutes. What they are doing is depriving Beulah, Karen, and Minnie of their freedom, which we see as an inherently cruel violation of their most fundamental right as elephants.”

This may not be a case about how the elephants are treated, but it’s important to note that this zoo has reportedly been cited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture over 50 times for failing to meet the standards required by the Animal Welfare Act.

Yes, 50 times. You’d think there’d be a point when they’d have to stop keeping animals, but that never seems to happen, does it?

If the NhRP wins, the group hopes to get the elephants permanently moved to the Animal Welfare Society’s ARK 2000 natural habitat refuge near San Andreas, California.

Behind this case is the desire to have courts recognize that sentient animals should have “negative rights” — in other words, the right not to have others impose their will on them by keeping them captive or making them perform, for example.

David Zabel, Connecticut area counsel for the NhRP, offers some important facts about elephant intelligence:

[W]e know they have a sense of self, remember the past and plan for the future, engage in complex communication, show empathy, and mourn their dead. But their legal status as ‘things’ with no rights has remained exactly the same. What’s at stake here is the freedom of beings who are no less self-aware and autonomous than we humans are.

This isn’t the first time NhRP has attempted to win personhood rights for animals. In 2013, the group sued on behalf of a chimpanzee named Tommy, another named Kiko, and two former laboratory chimps named Hercules and Leo. But none of these New York cases succeeded in getting recognition of the chimps’ legal personhood.

This is not the life am elephant deserves.  Photo credit: Thinkstock

This is not the life an elephant deserves. Photo credit: Thinkstock

Wise hopes the courts of Connecticut will be more receptive to his legal arguments. Perhaps, he thinks, personhood for apes struck too close to home for some people and made them fearful.

In support of its position, the NhRP plans to cite one of its precedents: New York’s and Connecticut’s “pet trust” statutes. That law allows pets to be named as beneficiaries of trusts. Now NhRP wants to help animals achieve an even bigger legal right.

Animals live with us on Earth, and the planet is theirs just as much as it is ours. Simply because humans have the ability and cunning to enslave other animals doesn’t make it right. And we shouldn’t try to dominate them based on a claim of superior rights.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

105 comments

federico b

Tutti gli animali liberi...sarebbe bello!!!

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Pat P
Pat P17 days ago

YES! All animals should live as free as they can--with human assistance, NOT control!

Humans are not the most intelligent species--just the most destructive. ALL creatures are intelligent in their way and as necessary--I believe much smarter than humans can comprehend.

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joan silaco
joan s19 days ago

TYFS

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Julie D
Julie D19 days ago

@ Georgina M:
Very well said, my feelings exactly!

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Georgina M
Georgina M20 days ago

Animals live with us on Earth, and the planet is theirs just as much as it is ours. Simply because humans have the ability and cunning to enslave other animals doesn’t make it right. And we shouldn’t try to dominate them based on a claim of superior rights.
I wish all humans would read and understand this ALWAYS.

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heather g
heather g21 days ago

I certainly agree with this statement : "the planet is theirs just as much as it is ours. Simply because humans have the ability and cunning to enslave other animals doesn’t make it right."

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Jana D
Jana DiCarlo21 days ago

interesting

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Lenore K
Lenore K21 days ago

ok

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One Heart inc
One Heart inc21 days ago

Thanks!!!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cABVKIPk_u0

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Christine D
Christine D21 days ago

Nous devons enfin comprendre que les animaux doivent êtres libres ! Les humains inhumains doivent cesser de vouloir les dominer, et les manger également !
Respecterons TOUS les animaux.

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