Lawsuit urges ‘personhood’ for zoo elephants
Lawsuit urges ‘personhood’ for zoo elephants

An animal rights organization filed a writ of habeas corpus [text, PDF] Monday on behalf of three elephants owned by the Connecticut-based Commerford Zoo [website].

The writ was brought by the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) [advocacy website] for the confinement and mistreatment of the elephants.

NhRP is seeking a status of “personhood” for the elephants but claims that “personhood” is not legally synonymous to “human beings.” The NhRP’s memorandum [text, PDF] states that not classifying the elephants under “personhood” would be a form of unlawful discrimination based on a single trait.

“Beulah’s, Minnie’s, and Karen’s common law classification as rightless ‘things’ rather than ‘persons’ violates equality as it furthers the illegitimate end of depriving autonomous beings of their bodily liberty.”

This is not the first writ of this kind. Three other petitions have been documented for chimpanzees and a bear, but NhRP claims that elephants are even more complex than these animals that failed to receive the status of “personhood.” The writ included medical testimony that elephants are autonomous, as they exhibit self-determined behavior that is based on freedom of choice.

“African and Asian elephants share numerous complex cognitive abilities with humans, such as self-awareness, empathy, awareness of death, intentional communication, learning, memory, and categorization abilities.”

The Commerford Zoo has been cited for violations of the Federal Animal Welfare Act for their treatment of the elephants, which are allegedly struck with bullhooks if they do not perform or follow orders.

NhRP requests that the Court considers releasing Beulah, Minnie and Karen to the Performing Animal Welfare Society Sanctuary [advocacy website] in California, which agreed to provide permanent sanctuary for the elephants.