Judge denies legal request to grant elephants ‘personhood’

In this Tuesday, March 3, 2015 photo, elephants Icky, right, and Alana stand together at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation, in Polk City, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP/WTNH) — A petition by an animal rights group to grant three elephants at a Connecticut zoo personhood has been denied by a state judge who called the request “wholly frivolous.”

The Nonhuman Rights Project filed suit in November on behalf of elephants at Commerford Zoo, a traveling petting zoo based in Goshen. The group wanted the elephants released to a natural habitat sanctuary.

Related: Lawsuit filed against Goshen zoo concerning elephant rights

The group says elephants “have a sense of self, remember the past and plan for the future, engage in complex communication, show empathy, and mourn their dead.”

The judge’s decision Tuesday was based on the fact that the group didn’t have standing to bring the petition and there was no precedent.

Steven Wise, the founder and president of the Nonhuman Rights Project, issued the following statement Thursday afternoon:

The Superior Court gave two grounds for its dismissal. The first was the NhRP lacked standing. While we pointed out that, as far back as the days of human slavery, the Connecticut courts have allowed any petitioner to seek a common law writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a detained individual, the Superior Court in our case added the further requirement that the petitioner filing the lawsuit have a ‘significant relationship’ with the detainee, unless a detainee has no significant relationships at all, and that the NhRP failed to allege the elephants have no significant relationships at all. The NhRP had thought it plain that the three elephants have no significant relationships with any petitioner able to file a habeas corpus lawsuit on their behalf against their captors. We are also concerned that the Superior Court in its decision inappropriately analogized their captors at the Commerford Zoo to the elephants’ ‘parents.’ In each of its prior common law habeas corpus cases in which a court addressed standing, the NhRP has always been found to have standing. We are optimistic we will eventually be found to have standing in this case as well. The second ground for dismissal was that the Superior Court found the lawsuit to be frivolous because no one had ever brought such a case before in Connecticut. We believe the court failed to consider the manner in which the common law has traditionally changed over the last 800 years. Each of the thousands of common law rules that exist today once did not exist. Each common law rule that exists today was once the subject of the first such case to be brought. In short, there is an important difference between a frivolous case and a novel one. That said we are studying the decision and will likely either seek to amend our habeas corpus petition to add a sentence stating that Minnie, Karen, and Beulah have no significant relationships with anyone able to to file a habeas corpus action against their captors or we will refile our lawsuit so that our petition includes this sentence. Should we be unsuccessful we will, of course, appeal.”

The zoo says it properly cares for its animals.

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