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CT Governor Lamont: Help Free Minnie from the Commerford Zoo

By Lauren Choplin

Today we issued the following press release regarding our elephant client Minnie:

Review by Connecticut’s Highest Court Sought in Elephant Rights Case as Groups Urge Governor to Help Free Elephant from Traveling Circus

~ The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) is also requesting a temporary injunction to prevent the Commerford Zoo from moving the NhRP’s elephant client Minnie out of state ~

Media Contact:
Lauren Choplin

Sept. 27, 2019—Hartford, CT—Today the Nonhuman Rights Project and twelve other organizations sent a letter to Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont, urging his office to take action to help free an elephant named Minnie—the NhRP’s client in ongoing elephant rights litigation—from a traveling circus to an elephant sanctuary.

The NhRP has also filed papers in the Connecticut Supreme Court asking it to hear the NhRP’s appeal of an Appellate Court decision issued in August in Minnie’s case and to grant a temporary injunction preventing her owner, the Goshen-based Commerford Zoo, from moving her out of state. As the NhRP writes, “Minnie’s removal from Connecticut would strip this Court of its jurisdiction to grant Plaintiff’s Petition for Certification and consider the merits of Plaintiff’s appeal. In turn Minnie would be irreparably harmed by losing her only opportunity to be freed of her long and lonely imprisonment and sent to either The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee or the Performing Animal Welfare Society near Sacramento, California, where she would be able to live out her years in a place that respects her autonomy, her complex cognitive abilities, and her complex social and psychological needs.”

With the recent death of the NhRP’s elephant client Beulah at Massachusetts’ Big E fair and confirmation from the USDA that the NhRP’s other elephant client Karen died in March, Minnie is now the NhRP’s sole surviving elephant client held captive and exploited by the Commerford Zoo, which the USDA has cited over 50 times for failing to adhere to the minimum standards required by the Animal Welfare Act.

The letter—whose signatories include the PETA Foundation, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and the Humane Society of the United States—stresses the state and federal government’s failure to protect the Commerford elephants and the life-or-death urgency of Minnie’s situation: “Because Minnie is now without the company of other elephants and remains in an environment radically unsuited to elephant well-being, the need for her release is more urgent than ever.”

As detailed in the NhRP’s motion for a temporary injunction, the NhRP believes the Commerford Zoo intends to move Minnie to Florida, which “will only condemn her to exploitation that will end, as it did with Beulah and Karen, with her death.” Requests for temporary injunctions are generally sought at the trial court level; the NhRP’s motion is likely the first time the Connecticut Supreme Court will consider such a request.

On Sept. 15, 2019, Beulah collapsed and died from a reported heart attack at the Big E in West Springfield, MA, where the Commerford Zoo had transported her to serve as entertainment. That same day, a member of the group Connecticut Residents Seeking Sanctuary for the Commerford Animals—a signatory to the NhRP’s letter—photographed Beulah lying motionless on her side in a parking lot on a patch of grass barely larger than her body as a handler sat nearby. Karen died over six months ago after not having been seen in public since last summer. Her cause of death is not yet known.

In its request for permission to appeal, the NhRP argues the Supreme Court should accept the case for further review because Minnie’s case is of fundamental public importance as it concerns “whether an autonomous, self-determining, and otherwise exceedingly cognitively complex being … can legally be imprisoned for life, whether a third party may employ The Great Writ of Habeas Corpus to test the legality of her imprisonment, and what meaning liberty and equality have in such cases.” The Appellate Court’s decision also directly conflicts with controlling Connecticut Supreme Court precedent. Earlier this month, the Appellate Court denied en banc review of its decision, which, as the NhRP maintains, wrongly asserted that the elephants are not legal persons. In the petitions for a common law writ of habeas corpus the NhRP has filed on behalf of Beulah, Karen, and Minnie with support from world-renowned elephant experts, the NhRP argues the elephants are legal persons with the fundamental right to liberty.

Both the Performing Animal Welfare Society’s sanctuary in California and The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, the US’s two accredited elephant sanctuaries, have offered to provide Minnie with lifetime care no cost to the Commerford Zoo.

To learn more about Beulah, Karen, and Minnie’s lives and the NhRP’s litigation on their behalf, visit this page. To download a photo of Minnie for use in media coverage, visit this page and credit Gigi Glendinning.


About the Nonhuman Rights Project
The Nonhuman Rights Project is the only civil rights organization in the United States working through litigation, legislation, and education to secure fundamental rights for nonhuman animals.

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