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Facebook Live AMA: Beulah, Karen, and Minnie

By Courtney Fern

Today on our Facebook page, I discussed our ongoing work to free Minnie—the sole surviving Commerford Zoo elephant—to a sanctuary and compel the relevant authorities to investigate Beulah and Karen’s deaths.

Nov. 15th marks two months since Beulah collapsed and died at The Big E fair after the Commerford Zoo exploited her for profit one final time.

Watch the Facebook Live video here, and see below for written answers to frequently asked questions about our #FreeTheCommerfordElephants campaign. To learn how you can help, visit Minnie’s campaign page.

Who is Minnie?

Minnie is an Asian elephant who was born in the wild in Thailand and imported to the US in 1972 when she was two months old. Shortly after, a New Jersey couple, in search of a baby elephant to incorporate into their traveling petting zoo, purchased her so she could become “the first elephant in the world to be raised as a member of a household.” In 1976, the couple sold Minnie to the Commerford Zoo, which has frequently used her in weddings, film productions, photo shoots, circuses, and fairs.

Is Minnie alive?

Based on information we have received from multiple sources, we believe that Minnie is alive and currently imprisoned on the Commerford Zoo’s Goshen, CT property.

What is the Commerford Zoo’s property like, and what is her life like there?

It is a ramshackle “farm” in a rural area with piles of concrete rubble scattered around the property, which is across from a gas station and off a major road. Based on aerial footage we have secured and reports from witnesses, Minnie appears to spend most of her time in a small, dark barn with limited access to the outdoors. The barren enclosure next to the barn does not appear to have adequate fencing, which suggests the elephants are tethered or monitored by handlers with bullhooks. In the winter months, we presume she is always in the barn as it is too cold in Connecticut for an elephant to be outside and not suffer frostbite or other ailments. Now that Beulah and Karen have died, Minnie is without the psychologically necessary companionship of other elephants.

What hasn’t Minnie been removed from the Commerford Zoo yet?     

Unfortunately, we cannot go and remove Minnie ourselves. In our ongoing habeas litigation, the courts have yet to order her release. Additionally, federal and state agencies have not, to our knowledge, thoroughly investigated the mounting welfare concerns for Minnie or possible violations committed by the Commerford Zoo that led to the deaths of Karen and Beulah.

The only way that Minnie can be removed from the Commerford Zoo would be if they voluntarily relinquished ownership or if the government, whether it be the courts or an agency, took custody of her.

What is NhRP doing to secure Minnie’s release to a sanctuary?

Since 2017 the NhRP has been litigating to secure Minnie’s right to liberty and transfer to either TES or PAWS. We are currently appealing our second case to the CT COA. In these efforts we have had the support of habeas corpus experts (including Laurence Tribe), philosophers, and the former president of the Connecticut Bar Association who is an expert in legal ethics.

Additionally, we have been leading a grassroots campaign to secure her freedom. In addition to rallies, social media campaigns, and an online petition that almost 400,000 people have signed, we have been working with federal and state elected officials to secure her release.

We have also facilitated communication between advocates and key officials through our action alerts. So far, over 10,000 emails have been sent to various officials urging them to take action to free Minnie and investigate the deaths of Karen and Beulah, including CT Governor Ned Lamont, State Representative Maria Horn, State Senator Craig Minor, and Commissioner Katie Dykes, who leads the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the agency that oversees the keeping of elephants in the state.

Lastly, before Beulah died we submitted FOIA requests to DEEP and to the USDA’s APHIS for records on the elephants. DEEP had no responsive records on the elephants. As of today, the USDA has failed to respond to our request, and we continue to seek their compliance with FOIA regulations.

What are your legal arguments?

  • As an autonomous being, Minnie is a legal person with the right to bodily liberty, regardless of whether she can bear duties and responsibilities. Accordingly, she must be released to a sanctuary where this right will be respected.
  • Courts have the responsibility under the common law—which is meant to evolve as human understandings of injustice evolve—to consider and remedy the injustice of Minnie’s legal thinghood in accordance with Connecticut’s deeply rooted values and principles of justice. Simply put, it is unjust to imprison an autonomous being like Minnie, especially alone.

In response to errors made by the Connecticut courts thus far:

  • Under Connecticut’s common law of habeas corpus, the NhRP has standing to sue on Minnie’s behalf to challenge the lawfulness of her imprisonment, regardless of whether she herself has standing or whether we can be said to have a relationship with her.
  • Minnie is entitled to a hearing on the merits of her case, and given the absence of any such hearing, the Appellate Court was wrong to rule on the merits (by determining that she isn’t and can’t be a legal person).

Why won’t the Commerford Zoo let Minnie go?

We don’t know. The Commerford Zoo has been informed that both US elephant sanctuaries have agreed to transport and provide lifetime care and refuge for Minnie at no cost to them.

We do know that they previously sold an elephant that they owned. In the year 2000 they loaned an Asian elephant named Nellie to the Miami Zoo, and eventually sold her to them. So it is safe to assume that that they are willing to part with their elephants.

If you would like to ask the Commerford Zoo to send Minnie to TES or PAWS, you can email them at or call them at (860) 491-3421.

Can’t you just buy Minnie’s freedom?

We understand the deep concern for Minnie’s well-being that motivates this question. However, buying our clients’ freedom goes against our mission and work and the organizational values of many sanctuaries. It would also set a bad precedent going forward, perpetuating the idea that nonhuman animals are merely things to be sold and purchased, and possibly create a financial incentive for the owners to purchase additional animals. In seeking to free nonhuman animals via rights-based litigation and legislation, we seek to help both the individual animals in question and address the systemic nature of the problem of their imprisonment and exploitation. However, outside parties are welcome to take any legal action they’d like to try to secure Minnie’s release.

How did Karen die?

We do not know. We are awaiting the USDA’s response to our FOIA request which should include any records on her death, should the agency have any.

How did Beulah die?

We have been told she had a painful infection of the uterus when she died, but we do not yet know the cause of her death.

What is being done to investigate their deaths?

The CT DEEP has stated that they are coordinating with other state and federal agencies to see what can be done to both investigate Karen and Beulah’s deaths as well as Minnie’s welfare.

Had Beulah not died in public, it is likely that no one, including state agencies, would have known that Karen had died. That is simply because she is that “thing.”

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