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California city passes historic animal rights legislation

By Courtney Fern

Last night the Ojai City Council made legal history by becoming the first city in the US to recognize the legal right of a nonhuman animal.

Introduced by Council Member Leslie Rule and developed with and supported by the Nonhuman Rights Project, the ordinance defines and protects elephants’ right to liberty.

In the early 1980s, an elephant named Tarra was held in captivity in Ojai Valley and used for entertainment, including in an act where she was made to rollerskate. In 1995, Tarra became the first resident of what is now the largest elephant sanctuary in the US. Under this ordinance, which passed by a vote of 4-1, it is now illegal in Ojai to subject an elephant to the lack of freedom Tarra endured. 

The ordinance expressly recognizes that elephants possess the right to liberty, prohibits any person from preventing elephants from exercising their right to liberty, and details how the law will be enforced and the penalty for violating it. 

This legislation is historic. It’s indisputable that elephants suffer when deprived of their freedom and that animal welfare laws can’t end their suffering. For elephants and the nonhuman animal rights movement, we are proud to support this first-of-its-kind ordinance, and we commend the Ojai City Council for standing up for what is necessary and just.

In the years to come, we expect this will be the first of many such laws: introduced by elected officials who understand that a sustainable and just future for all life on earth means extending compassion to and establishing legal rights for nonhuman animals. In legislatures, in courtrooms, and beyond, that’s what this movement is about.

Are you interested in talking to your local elected officials about enacting nonhuman animal rights legislation? Email Courtney at

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