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NhRP Remarks Before Milestone Animal Rights Vote in California

By Nonhuman Rights

Below are remarks delivered in Ojai, California on Sept. 26 by NhRP Director of Government Relations Courtney Fern prior to the Ojai City Council voting to pass historic animal rights legislation. Watch the City Council meeting here.

Hi. My name is Courtney Fern and I am the Director of Government Relations for the Nonhuman Rights Project. On behalf of the NhRP and our Ojai supporters, I would like to thank the City Council for introducing this groundbreaking ordinance that, for the first time in the United States, establishes a defined, enforceable right for a nonhuman animal. 

For humans as much as for nonhuman animals, rights are the only way to protect an individual’s fundamental interests. Recognizing the right to bodily liberty for elephants is the only way to truly protect them from human-caused harm, now and in the long term. While animal welfare laws can help reduce elephant suffering, they do not address the underlying problem–the fundamental loss of their freedom.

Elephants are majestic beings. They are autonomous, self-aware, and possess extraordinary emotional intelligence, which allows them to understand the physical competence and emotional state of others. In the wild, elephants have a rich network of social relationships through which they cooperate and build coalitions. They engage in intentional communication, including through vocalizations, to share knowledge and information with others in a manner similar to humans. 

Through scientific studies and observations we have learned not only what elephants need to thrive, but also how captivity causes them immense physical and psychological harm.

As we gather here right now, there are 19 elephants in California being held captive against their will in small exhibits, unjustly forced to exist for the benefit of their human captors. They are most likely inside barred stalls where they will remain until their handlers release them in the morning. Many of these elephants were taken from their familial herds in Asia and Africa; all of them now live wholly unnatural lives, unable to engage in innate behaviors, in order to entertain and satisfy the curiosity of paying patrons. This is a great moral wrong. Aside from the abject cruelty and pointlessness of it all, this is not what California stands for. We are a state that prides itself on protecting wildlife and the environment, not exploiting it. 

By recognizing the right to bodily liberty for elephants, Ojai is leading the way for other cities in the state and the nation to right this wrong. Through this council’s leadership, you are ensuring that elephants will never again be deprived of their liberty in Ojai, as happened in the 1980s when the elephant Tarra was held captive in the Ojai Valley. You are sending an important message that elephants are not rightless things to be exploited for profit, but rights holders who deserve to live with dignity and respect. Finally, you are making clear that humanity’s capacity for empathy and compassion—as well as the fundamental principles of justice, liberty, and equality—can and should be extended beyond humans. 

Thank you.

Learn more about the ordinance here.

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