The Unjust Treatment of Elephants in Connecticut
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FROM Nonhuman Rights Project
December 2020

Arguments against nonhuman rights, grounded in our most cherished principles of justice, cannot and will not stand, in Connecticut or anywhere else.

Three years ago, the Nonhuman Rights Project began our fight for elephants’ right to bodily liberty in Connecticut—a state whose legal history has demonstrated the importance its judicial system has placed on bodily liberty as a fundamental principle of justice.

Forged across centuries, in part through writs of habeas corpus sought on behalf of enslaved human beings, this principle of justice becomes weaker every day that Connecticut allows a traveling circus called the Commerford Zoo to imprison and exploit elephants.

For decades, the Commerford Zoo profited from the servitude of our elephant clients Beulah, Karen, and Minnie. Using bullhooks—instruments to inflict pain on and control elephants—they compelled these cognitively complex beings to spend their days carrying people on their backs, walking in circles in parking lots, standing for hours in stadiums and photo lines, parading down city streets, and more. This month, the Commerford Zoo began using the animals it owns in a live nativity scene.

Last year, both Beulah and Karen died, leaving Minnie the sole surviving elephant imprisoned on the Commerford Zoo’s property in Goshen—an environment totally inappropriate for elephants.

Beulah collapsed and died in public at the Big E fair. Her final moments were spent on the edge of a stadium parking lot. Karen suffered out of sight in Goshen until she succumbed to kidney disease.

Over the years, many people have protested the Commerford Zoo’s treatment of animals. Meanwhile, it has operated with impunity as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, state agencies, and many elected officials have looked the other way—even now that the Commerford Zoo has publicly acknowledged it can no longer afford to meet Minnie’s basic needs.

Such is the ineffectuality and insufficiency of animal welfare laws, which consistently protect the interests of people who imprison animals to the detriment of the animals themselves. The powers that be in Connecticut owe Minnie more than trust in the supposed good intentions of those who’ve exploited her for years.

Science makes clear that, like us, elephants need and want to live freely. Like us, they suffer deeply when deprived of their freedom. Their suffering is an injustice the Connecticut courts have the duty to consider and remedy. To date, the courts have refused even to allow a full and fair hearing on the merits of Minnie’s case, preferring instead to issue, without explanation, decisions that conflict with two centuries of Connecticut habeas corpus and standing law.

In contrast, courts around the world have begun to reject the rightlessness of elephants and other animals, to recognize they deserve to have their freedom legally protected, and to restore their freedom to the greatest extent possible by ordering their release to sanctuaries.

Unfortunately, it appears the Connecticut courts are likely to remain unwilling to engage with the substantive issues of Minnie’s case. That’s why, after careful consideration and with deep regret, we’ve decided to conclude—at least for the foreseeable future—our Connecticut litigation.

However, our work to free Minnie to a sanctuary continues in full force, and our repeated offer to help the Commerford Zoo transfer Minnie to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee or the Performing Animal Welfare Society at no cost to them still stands. We urge the Commerford Zoo to do the right thing and allow her to live out her days with peace and dignity in one of these two globally respected sanctuaries.

Since we filed the world’s first elephant rights lawsuit in Connecticut, more than 400,000 people have used their voices to join the call for Minnie’s release. We encourage people to continue to do so—and remember that arguments against nonhuman rights, grounded in our most cherished principles of justice, cannot and will not stand, in Connecticut or anywhere else. 

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