Breaking News! Nonhuman Rights Project Lawsuit Filed Today To Give Captive Elephants Rights At Connecticut Zoo

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The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) announced today that it has filed a petition for a common-law writ of habeas corpus in Connecticut Superior Court on behalf of three elephants held captive at the Commerford Zoo in Goshen, CT.

The suit demands that the court, in accordance with state common law and scientific evidence of elephants’ autonomy, recognize the elephants as legal persons with the fundamental right to bodily liberty.

The NhRP’s elephant clients, all captured from the wild when they were young and used for decades in traveling circuses, fairs, and other forms of entertainment include: Beulah, an Asian elephant born in 1967, Karen, an African elephant born in 1981, and Minnie, also known as Mignon, an Asian elephant born in 1972.

“This is not an animal welfare case,” said attorney Steven M. Wise, president and founder of the NhRP. “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. If Connecticut common law courts truly value autonomy, as previous rulings suggest they do, they too will see their situation in this light and order the elephants’ release from captivity.”

The NhRP is requesting that the court release the elephants to the Performing Animal Welfare Society’s ARK 2000 natural habitat sanctuary, where their right to bodily liberty will be respected.

As in the NhRP’s landmark chimpanzee rights cases filed in New York beginning in 2013, the NhRP’s first elephant rights case is grounded in abundant, robust scientific evidence of elephants’ autonomy, i.e. their ability to choose how to live their emotionally, socially, and cognitively complex lives.

World-renowned elephant experts including Joyce Poole, Co-founder and Co-director of ElephantVoices, and Cynthia Moss Program Director and Trustee of the Amboseli Trust for Elephants, who have submitted affidavits in support of the NhRP’s suit.

In its court filings, the NhRP maintains that the question of whether elephants are legal persons under the common law is a matter of public policy and moral principle that courts must consider.

Civil law and common law courts have already recognized the personhood of nonhuman entities such as corporations in the U.S., a captive chimpanzee in Argentina, and a river in New Zealand.

“What’s at stake here is the freedom of beings who are no less self-aware and autonomous than we humans are,” said David Zabel, the NhRP’s local counsel in Connecticut and a partner at the law firm of Cohen & Wolf. “Common law courts must catch up to what we know about members of this extraordinarily complex species and how they suffer, precisely because they are autonomous.”

“The time has come for them to be transferred to a sanctuary out of respect for their rights,” concluded Zabel. “We will not rest until this happens.”

While currently, all nonhuman animals in the U.S. are considered legal “things” with no rights, NhRP is working hard to change that.

NhRP is focused on correcting the status of at least some nonhuman animals from mere “things” to “persons” who possess such fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty, along with other legal rights to which evolving standards of morality, scientific discovery, and human experience entitle them.

More information about the NhRP’s elephant clients, as well as the Commerford Zoo can be found HERE!

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