Exciting news in the fight against elephant captivity! The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), a civil rights organization working towards achieving legal rights for nonhuman animals, filed the FIRST EVER petition for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of captive elephants. NhRP’s clients include Beulah, Karen, and Minnie, who have all been used for decades in traveling circuses and fairs – they now currently reside at Connecticut’s Commerford Zoo.

So, what exactly does it mean for NhRP to file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus for the trio of elephants? NhRP is simply asking Connecticut common law courts to recognize Beulah, Karen, and Minnie’s “nonhuman legal personhood and fundamental right to bodily liberty as self-aware, autonomous beings and, as such, order them immediately released to an appropriate sanctuary.” NhRP has used detailed legal arguments and affidavits from leading elephant scientists, including Joyce Poole and Cynthia Moss, to make their case and Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) has already agreed to take Beulah, Karen, and Minnie.

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“This is not an animal welfare case. 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,” said attorney Steven M. Wise, president and founder of the NhRP. And as NhRP points out, civil law and common law courts have already recognized the personhood of nonhuman entities such as corporations (and ships) in the U.S., a captive chimpanzee in Argentina, and a river in New Zealand.

Elephants are incredibly intelligent and emotional creatures. In the wild, they have dynamic lives and play an integral role in forming their ecosystems. Few species have the cognitive ability to recognize themselves in the mirror, but elephants have passed the test. This self-recognition demonstrates that they are able to see themselves as separate, one of the main traits underlying empathy and complex sociality. The more we learn about these self-aware animals, the harder it becomes to justify keeping them in captivity.

After years of performing silly tricks for humans, the least we can do is allow these magnificent animals time to relax in their twilight years. What’s more, Beulah, Karen, and Minnie could potentially be the first elephants with legally recognized fundamental rights, according to NhRP, meaning this case could lay the groundwork against zoos, as well as circuses who still keep elephants captive.

To learn more about NhRP’s case on behalf of Karen, Beulah, and Minnie, click here. And please share this progressing moment for elephants with all of your animal-loving friends!

Image Source: Rusty Clark/Flickr