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New Lawsuit Demands Right to Liberty, Sanctuary for Fresno Chaffee Zoo Elephants

The Nonhuman Rights Project has filed a habeas corpus petition in the San Francisco Superior Court demanding the right to liberty and release to sanctuary of three elephants held in captivity at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo in California.

Last month, In Defense of Animals named the Fresno Chaffee Zoo one of The 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in North America.

The NhRP is initially requesting an Order to Show Cause under the state’s common law of habeas corpus—in other words, for the San Francisco Superior Court to require the Fresno Chaffee Zoo to come before the Court to attempt to justify the continued imprisonment of elephants Nolwazi, Amahle, and Vusmusi. The NhRP has secured the world’s first such orders on behalf of nonhuman animals in our New York chimpanzee and elephant rights cases.

Learn about Nolwazi, Amahle, and Vusmusi and read our filings on their court case timeline.

Help #FreeTheFresnoElephants by signing and sharing their new petition.

Seven of the world’s most renowned elephant scientists with expertise on elephant cognition, including Dr. Joyce Poole and Dr. Keith Lindsay, have submitted affidavits in support of the NhRP’s habeas petition, which brings together centuries of case law including landmark common law and civil rights cases, the science of elephant cognition, the origin of legal rights, judicial rulings from outside the US that have granted rights to nonhuman animals, and ethical arguments against elephant captivity.

This lawsuit is as much about the suffering of our clients, who need and deserve to live freely, as it is ensuring we continue to expand–as a matter of justice and rightly evolving social norms–who counts as a rights-holder.

We’re excited to be bringing the fight for nonhuman animal rights to California, a state with a powerful history of protecting the vulnerable and disenfranchised, at a time when the issue of nonhuman animals’ legal status is part of a broader public conversation to an extent it’s never been before. Judges are beginning to rigorously consider nonhuman rights for the first time–in some cases, ruling boldly to recognize nonhuman animals as rights-holders. We believe it’s time for the California courts to consider the Fresno Chaffee Zoo elephants’ fundamental right to liberty.

We invite you to learn more about our new clients on a Zoom seminar with me (the NhRP lawyer who’ll be arguing their case) and my colleague Courtney Fern (who’ll be leading the grassroots campaign for their freedom) on Monday, May 9th at 3 p.m. ET. RSVP and find details here. 

Thank you for your support for elephants’ right to liberty!

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