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On Earth Day, Connecticut Appellate Court Considers Elephant Rights

The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) argued in a nearly hour-long hearing that its elephant clients Beulah, Karen, and Minnie are persons with the right to liberty

Hartford, CT, April 22, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Today, as people all over the world celebrated Earth Day and called for greater protection of nonhuman animals, the Appellate Court of Connecticut heard oral argument in a historic case filed by the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) to demand recognition of the fundamental right to bodily liberty of three elephants held captive at a Goshen-based traveling circus.


“This was the first time a Connecticut court has meaningfully engaged with the issues raised by Beulah, Karen, and Minnie’s elephant rights case, which is deeply grounded in Connecticut common law,” said the Nonhuman Rights Project’s president and lead attorney, Steven M. Wise, after the nearly hour-long hearing. “Especially on a day like Earth Day, when people who care about elephants and other animals are rightfully stressing the urgency of changing how we treat them, we appreciate the Appellate Court’s rigorous, attentive consideration of our arguments. At their core, our arguments are about finally bringing nonhuman animals’ legal status in line with science, human experience, existing laws, and the values and principles of justice that protect us all.”

In a packed courtroom before a panel of three judges, Wise argued that the lower court based its dismissal of Beulah, Karen, and Minnie’s common law habeas corpus petition on serious and reversible errors of law. The NhRP’s elephant rights case is “the first time in 350 years” a Connecticut court has dismissed a habeas corpus petition because the petitioner was assumed to lack a relationship with the individual whom the petitioner sought to free from unlawful imprisonment, Wise said. The NhRP is asking the Appellate Court to reverse the Superior Court’s erroneous decision and remand with instructions for that Court to issue the writ of habeas corpus and proceed according to the Connecticut Practice Book, which outlines habeas corpus procedure.

The Court went beyond the issues on appeal—standing and frivolity—to the ultimate issues at stake in the case: whether the elephants, as autonomous beings, are legal persons entitled to habeas corpus relief. The judges not only asked probing questions about the NhRP’s standing to sue, but also the role of the courts versus legislatures in recognizing the rights of nonhuman animals, the novelty of the NhRP’s case, and more. To accommodate the number of questions, the Court extended the duration of the oral argument to over twice the time originally allotted, from 20 to 40 to 50 minutes.

As with the NhRP's New York elephant client Happy, the NhRP argues that Beulah, Karen, and Minnie, once recognized as legal persons with the right to bodily liberty, must be ordered released from their unlawful imprisonment. The NhRP suggests their immediate transfer to the Performing Animal Welfare Society’s ARK 2000 natural habitat sanctuary, where their right to bodily liberty will be respected and they can exercise their autonomy to the greatest extent possible.

Currently, they are held at a traveling circus called the Commerford Zoo, which forces them to perform at events across the Northeast.

“As we made clear today, the courts have a necessary role to play in both the public policy debate about the rights of nonhuman animals and the immediate issue of Beulah, Karen, and Minnie's imprisonment,” Wise said. “At this stage, we simply wish to be allowed the opportunity to make our arguments on the elephants’ behalf in the lower court. That is the least these autonomous beings are due for all that has been taken from them.”

A decision is not expected for several months.

For more information, visit Beulah, Karen, and Minnie's court case page.

Lauren Choplin
The Nonhuman Rights Project