Lawyer Files Petition On Behalf of 3 Elephants Over Their 'Bodily Autonomy'

Image via Getty.
Image via Getty.

On Monday, animal rights attorney with the Nonhuman Rights Project Sam Wise filed a habeas corpus on behalf of three elephants named Minnie, Beulah, and Karen, who live as a part of a traveling circus in Connecticut. Wise is demanding that the Connecticut Superior Court send the elephants to a sanctuary.


The Nonhuman Rights Project has attempted to establish the bodily autonomy of animals like chimpanzees before, according to the Washington Post. Recently, he sued on behalf of two chimps named Tommy and Kiko who were owned by a private individual. If “personhood” could be established for a chimpanzee or elephant, it would have a huge impact on how animals are treated everywhere.

But Tim Commerford, owner of the Commerford Zoo, believes Wise is messing with the lives of his elephants to prove a point and not considering the actual comfort of the animals, who have all been at the zoo for around 30 years:

Commerford, the zoo owner, concurred that elephants are unusually intelligent. But he said Beulah, Minnie and Karen have ample space and stimulation. Removing them would be akin to taking away a house cat that is “comfy at your house,” he said.

“It’s not right to rip them from my family, from their home,” he said. Commerford referred to Wise and his team as “animal extremists” who “are picking on us and targeting us because we’re a small, family-owned operation and everything we do is on our own nickel.”

Other critics of Wise’s motives suggest that extending personhood to animals would weaken the protection of that concept for humans. As an example, if an elephant were given an operation to its benefit that it couldn’t agree to, would such an act be justified on a human by that precedent?

Wise seems to believe that the elephants’ case has a better chance of making it through the courts than that of Tommy and Kiko. He said to the Post that the apes “are so close to us that it makes some people uncomfortable.” Elephants, however, share characteristics of empathy, problem-solving, and self-awareness without conjuring as many thoughts about how narrow the gap of evolution is between us and a chimpanzee.



What will happen, if things go well, is that they will consult with someone like my friend Carol Buckley who heads Elephant Aid International and Elephant Rescue North America, her new sanctuary in Georgia. Carol founded The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald Tn over thirty years ago. She or someone equally skilled would visit these elephants and determine what would be best for them, given age and overall condition, relationships with keepers and other elephants, etc. A sanctuary is not always the answer. Case in point, she was summoned recently to evaluate an elder elephant in a Japanese zoo. Carol felt this old girl would be too stressed by transport and by leaving her beloved keeper to benefit from arduous transport and a new start at the sanctuary. Her first elephant at the new place will be Mundi, an African elephant from a former zoo destroyed by the hurricane in Puerto Rico. She just flew down to evaluate her at the request of the local government there.

The field of Animal Law is new and establishing animals as “non-human persons” and not “property” is a major goal. Carol herself has had a case in the courts for 6 years, trying to regain custody of her 42 year old elephant Tarra, who was seized by TES when Carol left. The hearing was almost a year ago, and no ruling yet..all because Tarra is considered “property” like a lawnmower.

I do hope things go well for these three.