In what may be termed one of the most bizarre lawsuits of the year, a court in Connecticut threw out a case last Tuesday, in which animal rights activists had requested that three elephants in a zoo be recognized as people.
The three elephants, Beulah, Karen and Minnie, are part of a traveling zoo, and Nonhuman Rights Project attorney Steven Wise had filed a lawsuit in November, claiming the elephants live in “deplorable conditions” and should have the legal rights to “bodily integrity and bodily liberty.”
“[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 activist suit said.
The case was based on the claim that a “person” was not necessarily a human, but “something with the capacity for legal rights.”
“Does the petitioner’s legal theory that an elephant is a legal person entitled to those same liberties extended to you and I have a possibility or probability of victory?” Judge James Bentivegna wrote in his decision on the case. “The petitioner is unable to point to any authority which has held so, but instead relies on basic human rights of freedom and equality.”
Bentivegna said the case was “wholly frivolous on its face in legal terms.”
Tim Commerford, owner of the Commerford Zoo, told the Washington Post in an interview shortly after the lawsuit was filed that the elephants ranged in age from 33 to 50 years and have all belonged to the zoo for at least 30 years.
“They’re part of our family,” he said.
But the lawyer filing the suit wanted to give them “legal personhood,” which didn’t fly with Judge Bentivegna.