~ The lawsuit comes weeks before New York's highest court will hear arguments in support of an elephant's right to liberty in an already historic Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) case ~
~ In April, the zoo was named one of The 10 Worst Zoos For Elephants in North America ~
SAN FRANCISCO, May 4, 2022 /PRNewswire/ -- The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) has filed a habeas corpus petition in the San Francisco Superior Court demanding the right to liberty and release to sanctuary of three elephants held in captivity at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo in California.
Last month, In Defense of Animals named the Fresno Chaffee Zoo one of The 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in North America.
The NhRP is initially requesting an Order to Show Cause under the state's common law of habeas corpus?in other words, for the San Francisco Superior Court to require the Fresno Chaffee Zoo to come before the Court to attempt to justify the continued imprisonment of elephants Nolwazi, Amahle, and Vusmusi. The NhRP has secured the world's first such orders on behalf of nonhuman animals in its New York chimpanzee and elephant cases.
Seven of the world's most renowned elephant scientists with expertise on elephant cognition, including Dr. Joyce Poole and Dr. Keith Lindsay, have submitted affidavits in support of the NhRP's habeas petition, which brings together centuries of case law including landmark common law and civil rights cases, the science of elephant cognition, the origin of legal rights, judicial rulings from outside the US that have granted rights to nonhuman animals, and ethical arguments against elephant captivity.
"This lawsuit is as much about the suffering of our clients, who need and deserve to live freely, as it is ensuring we continue to expand?as a matter of justice and rightly evolving social norms?who counts as a rights-holder," said NhRP attorney Jake Davis, who will argue the case on behalf of the NhRP.
Nolwazi is a female African elephant believed to be 27 years old. She was born in Hlane National Park in eSwatini (formerly known as Swaziland). Amahle is a female African elephant believed to be 12 years old. She is Nolwazi's daughter and was also born in Hlane National Park. Nolwazi and Amahle were among 39 elephants who roamed approximately 12,000 acres of the 54,000-acre park. In 2016, they and 15 other elephants, most of them breeding-age females, were taken from their natural habitat and imported to US zoos?a highly controversial arrangement which Charles Siebert detailed in a 2019 investigative essay for The New York Times Magazine.
Vusmusi (also known as Moose and Musi) is an 18-year-old male African elephant. He was born in the San Diego Zoo Safari Park to an elephant named Ndulamitsi, who was pregnant with him when she was imported to the US from eSwatini in 2003, also despite global public outcry and with zoo and eSwatini officials making the same claims about the elephants needing to be killed otherwise.
The elephant exhibit is approximately four acres and located across from a nightclub and restaurants surrounded by major transportation arteries and railways. When the handers are off duty or it's too cold outside, the elephants are further confined in a largely concrete barn. In Defense of Animals based its assessment of the Fresno Chaffee Zoo in part on the fact that three of the elephants in its custody died prematurely in a relatively short period of time. NhRP affiant Keith Lindsay sees these deaths as "indicative of a poor husbandry record" at the zoo.
The Fresno Chaffee Zoo's "imprisonment of Nolwazi, Amahle, and Vusmusi violates their common law right to bodily liberty protected by habeas corpus and is therefore unlawful because it deprives the elephants of their ability to meaningfully exercise their autonomy and extraordinary cognitive complexity, including the freedom to choose where to go, what to do, and with whom to be," the NhRP writes in its petition. "Whether Respondents are in compliance with animal welfare statutes is irrelevant to the lawfulness of the elephants' imprisonment as none of those statutes address the right to bodily liberty."
While the zoo is in Fresno, the San Francisco Superior Court is free to consider habeas corpus cases filed anywhere in the state under California law. The Court must issue an order to show cause or deny the petition within 60 days of the filing date or, of its own volition, extend the deadline for a decision.
The NhRP is the only civil rights organization in the US dedicated solely to securing rights for nonhuman animals. The Atlantic has called the NhRP's ongoing litigation to free an elephant named Happy from the Bronx Zoo to a sanctuary "the most important animal-rights case of the 21st century." On May 18th, 2022, New York's highest court will hear the NhRP's arguments in support of Happy's right to liberty.
"We're excited to be bringing the fight for nonhuman animal rights to California?a state with a powerful history of protecting the vulnerable and disenfranchised at a time when the issue of nonhuman animals' legal status is part of a broader public conversation to an extent it's never been before," Davis said. "Judges are beginning to rigorously consider nonhuman rights for the first time?in some cases, ruling boldly to recognize nonhuman animals as rights-holders. We believe it's time for the California courts to consider the Fresno Chaffee Zoo elephants' fundamental right to liberty."
CASE NO: CPF-22-517751
About the Nonhuman Rights Project
The Nonhuman Rights Project is the only civil rights organization in the United States working through litigation, legislation, and education to secure fundamental rights for nonhuman animals.
SOURCE Nonhuman Rights Project