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The Ojai City Council has set a historic precedent by becoming the first city in the United States to officially recognize the legal rights of a nonhuman animal. This remarkable development was initiated by Council Member Leslie Rule, District 1, and has been championed by the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP). The ordinance primarily focuses on defining and safeguarding the right to liberty for elephants, marking a significant stride toward Animal rights and welfare.
The NhRP’s Director of Government Relations and Campaigns, Courtney Fern, emphasized the historic nature of this ordinance, highlighting that it addresses the undeniable suffering endured by elephants when deprived of their freedom. It also underscores that conventional animal welfare laws alone are insufficient to alleviate this suffering, emphasizing the necessity of recognizing the fundamental rights of nonhuman animals.
The roots of this ordinance trace back to the early 1980s when an elephant named Tarra was held in captivity in Ojai Valley, subjected to demeaning entertainment practices, including rollerskating. Tarra’s story took a positive turn in 1995 when she became the first resident of what is now the largest elephant sanctuary in the United States. The ordinance, which passed by a vote of 4-1, effectively outlaws subjecting an elephant to the kind of captivity and deprivation of freedom that Tarra had to endure in her early years.
Council Member Leslie Rule paid tribute to Tarra, the 19 elephants suffering in captivity across California, and the hundreds more across the United States. She emphasized the remarkable similarities between elephants and humans in essential ways, underlining the importance of extending legal protections to these majestic creatures.
Coinciding with this historic ordinance, California’s highest court is on the verge of ruling on a habeas petition filed by the NhRP. This petition seeks the recognition of the right to liberty and the release of three elephants currently held captive and used for breeding at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo. Last year, two judges on New York’s highest court issued groundbreaking dissents in a similar NhRP case involving an elephant named Happy at the Bronx Zoo.
The push for recognizing the legal rights of elephants is supported by a growing body of scientific evidence. Experts in elephant cognition and behavior have demonstrated that these animals are not only highly intelligent but also emotionally and socially complex beings. When held in captivity, elephants suffer from various physical ailments, including arthritis and joint issues, stemming from standing on unnatural surfaces. They also experience emotional trauma and brain damage due to the inability to roam freely and interact with other elephants in their vast natural habitats.
Ojai Mayor Pro Tem and Council Member Suza Francina, District 4, expressed the city’s deep commitment to animal welfare and the belief that it was time to move beyond conventional animal welfare laws. Ojai has proudly become the first city in the nation to grant elephants the fundamental right to bodily liberty.
The passing of this ordinance establishes Ojai as a pioneer in the protection of the bodily liberty rights of elephants. City Attorney Matthew T. Summers hopes that other cities across California and the United States will follow suit, setting a precedent for the compassionate treatment of nonhuman animals.
Sign this petition to release Happy the Elephant from Bronx Zoo.
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