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Looking Forward to Next Legal Battle in Connecticut Elephant Rights Case

By Steven Wise

In June 2018, the Nonhuman Rights Project filed a second habeas corpus petition on behalf of Beulah, Karen, and Minnie—three elephants imprisoned in a traveling circus based in Connecticut called the Commerford Zoo—because we have the right to file it under Connecticut law and because we believe our clients have the right to have their case fully and fairly litigated in the Connecticut courts as soon as possible. At stake: not only the elephants’ liberty, which scientific discovery and human experience tell us are as important to them as ours is to us, but also the Connecticut courts’ willingness to meaningfully engage with novel legal issues pertaining to the bodily liberty of autonomous nonhuman beings.

The courts in the neighboring state of New York have begun to so engage, ranging from Judge Barbara Jaffe presiding over the world’s first habeas corpus hearing on behalf of a nonhuman animal in May 2015 to Judge Eugene Fahey writing in May 2018 that “there is no doubt that [a chimpanzee] is not merely a thing” to a New York appellate court stating in June 2018 that “it is common knowledge that personhood can and sometimes does attach to nonhuman entities like … animals” to the issuance of the world’s first writ of habeas corpus on behalf of an elephant in November 2018.

Last night, we were disappointed to learn that Connecticut Superior Court Judge Dan Shaban dismissed our second petition on the grounds that our second and first petitions “are exactly alike and are brought to adjudicate the same issues.” As we carefully took pains to explain in our written submissions and oral argument, the two cases are not alike and, even if they were, the NhRP was permitted to bring a second petition as the first petition was not dismissed on its merits and therefore could be brought again.

However, we never stop fighting for our clients when we know we are right in arguing against the injustice of the legal system continuing to treat them as things with no rights despite all we know about who they are and how they suffer when deprived of their liberty. Oral argument in our appeal of the dismissal of our first petition may come as early as next month. We hope The Appellate Court of Connecticut will allow the first petition to move forward immediately. Meanwhile, we are weighing our options as to how to proceed on the second petition. We will likely appeal as we believe we are legally correct.

We are grateful for the support of all the area residents who attended the NhRP’s Jan. 28th oral argument, signed the NhRP’s petition calling for the elephants’ release to a sanctuary, and rallied with NhRP staff on Feb. 2nd in Worcester, MA outside a Commerford Zoo “kids fun fair” where Beulah, Karen, and Minnie have been brought to give rides under threat of a bullhook. As always, we look forward to the next legal battle and invite members of the public and the media to join us next time we are in court to argue for recognition of our elephant clients’ legal personhood and fundamental right to bodily liberty. We will keep you informed.

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