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Our new client in our first California lawsuit

By Jake Davis

We’ve taken on a new client in our litigation to #FreeTheFresnoElephants: his name is Mabu, and he’s one of the most exploited elephants in the US zoo system.

Mabu was part of a group of elephants captured in 2003 from eSwatini (then Swaziland) and imported to the US despite global public outcry. He has twice been moved back and forth between the Tucson Reid Park Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park to be used for captive breeding. Since 2003 he’s fathered 15 elephants, 13 of whom are still alive and held captive in US zoos.

Late last year, the Fresno Chaffee Zoo brought in Mabu to use him for captive breeding with our clients Amahle and her mother Nolwazi (they too were imported to the US to be used for breeding). They also transferred our client Vusmusi back to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park because their efforts to use him for breeding weren’t successful.

Zoos, of course, celebrate their breeding “successes.” But all they’re doing is creating a new generation of elephants who will never know freedom.

That’s why we’ve filed a new habeas corpus petition in California’s Fifth District Court of Appeal, demanding Amahle, Nolwazi, and Mabu’s right to liberty. We’re asking the Court to release them from the Fresno Chaffee Zoo to a sanctuary or a rewilding facility.

In November of 2022, Fresno Superior Court Judge Arlan L. Harrel denied the NhRP’s first petition–filed on behalf of Amahle, Nolwazi, and Vusmusi–on the grounds that the petition doesn’t allege that the elephants are held in state custody. The NhRP makes clear in the petition we filed this week why this is legally wrong; under longstanding California law, you don’t have to be in state custody in order to challenge your imprisonment.

As the NhRP states in our petition: “The time has come for California common law to reflect the modern understanding that elephants are autonomous and extraordinarily cognitively complex beings.”

We’ll be continuing to fight for Vusmusi’s freedom as well.

Stay tuned for next steps and how you can help!

For a detailed timeline of the Fresno elephants’ case, court filings, and decisions, visit this page.

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