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Press release

Statement on Dismissal of Hawaii Elephant Rights Case

Below is a statement from the Nonhuman Rights Project on the¬†decision issued from the bench on Jan. 16, 2024 by O’ahu First Circuit Court Judge Gary W.B. Chang following a 45-minute hearing in our Hawaii elephant rights case. Judge Chang granted a motion to dismiss the case filed in November by the City and County of Honolulu, which oversees the Honolulu Zoo.

While we obviously disagree with Judge Chang’s decision, we appreciate how probing his questions were, his philosophical approach to the arguments overall, and the fact that he heard arguments at a very¬†early¬†stage in our clients’ case. Judge Chang’s thoughtfulness is an indication of how seriously courts are now taking the issue of nonhuman animal rights. That said, Mari and Vaigai are entitled to have¬†the injustice of their imprisonment remedied through the writ of habeas corpus, which is meant to safeguard the freedom Mari and Vaigai have been denied.¬†We plan to appeal Judge¬†Chang’s decision because the law and the science are clear:¬†habeas corpus isn’t limited to humans, and Mari and Vaigai¬†will continue to suffer until they’re released from their unlawful imprisonment in the Honolulu Zoo¬†and can regain their freedom in an elephant sanctuary. ¬†

Additional background

In November, the NhRP filed a habeas corpus petition in the O’ahu First Circuit Court on behalf of Mari and Vaigai.¬†The first litigation of its kind in Hawaii, the NhRP‚Äôs habeas corpus petition has the support of world-renowned experts in elephant behavior and cognition.

Mari and Vaigai were born in the wild in India, taken from their herds when they were young, and imported to the US in 1982 and 1992, respectively. Both were given to the municipally-owned Honolulu Zoo as a gift from the Indian government and then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

The City and County of Honolulu, Department of Enterprise Services, its Director Dita Holifield, and Honolulu Zoo Director Linda Santos are named as respondents in the lawsuit.

  • The NhRP‚Äôs opposition to the zoo’s motion to dismiss the case can be found here.
  • Visit the elephants‚Äô client page including the elephants‚Äô biographies and information about the exhibit.
  • Download a photo of the elephants for use in media coverage (credit the NhRP).

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