The Nonhuman Rights Project continues to fight for elephant rights in Connecticut

 The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) is currently working to free three elephants from decades of captivity in a Connecticut traveling circus. (Remy Rossi/Flickr Creative Commons)

The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) is currently working to free three elephants from decades of captivity in a Connecticut traveling circus. (Remy Rossi/Flickr Creative Commons)

The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), a national civil rights organization, is currently working to free three elephants from decades of captivity in a Connecticut traveling circus.

The elephants, Beulah, Karen and Minnie are owned by The Commerford Zoo, located in Goshen, Connecticut, according to Lauren Choplin, NhRP’s Communications Director. The elephants spent their days walking in circles with humans on their back for decades, Choplin said.  

This January, NhRP filed a motion with the Connecticut Superior Court to reverse its dismissal of NhRP’s November habeas corpus petition. This petition would be the first suit in the world to ask a court to recognize elephants’ fundamental rights, according to a press release from NhRP.

“We learned of these elephants' situation several years ago as we were researching potential nonhuman animal clients across the US, as well as the most promising states in which to file suit,” Steve Wise, NhRP President, said in an email.

The Superior Court originally dismissed the petition under the principle that the right of freedom and equality are purely human, not animal rights, according to Superior Judge James Bentivegna in a Washington Post article.

According to Wise, he believed that the Superior Court’s dismissal was incorrect. The dismissal was based on the idea that NhRP could not sue on behalf of the elephants.

“The court’s dismissal, we believe, was an error,” Wise said. “In response, the NhRP filed a Motion to Reargue in which we argued that the court seriously erred both in stating that the NhRP lacked standing to sue on behalf of the elephants and that our case was frivolous on its face.”

After NhRP filed their habeas corpus petition in November, they created #RumbleForRights campaign where thousands of people have the ability to advocate for captive elephants’ legal rights on social media, Wise said.

While the NhRP's research suggests there are no other elephants being held captive in Connecticut, they remain prepared to file suit on behalf of any captive elephants, should they be discovered, Choplin said.

“[Beulah, Karen and Minnie] appear to be the only elephants in Connecticut,” Wise said. “If we find more, we’ll also sue to establish their legal personhood and fundamental right to bodily liberty as protected by the common law writ of habeas corpus.”

If the Superior Court reverses their previous decision, the three elephants will go to live in an appropriate sanctuary, such as the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) in California, Wise said.

PAWS’ sanctuaries help former performing animals move into a more relaxing stage of life, according to the organization’s website. The elephants would be specifically housed in ARK 2000, Wise said. The sanctuary is a 2,300-acre natural habitat in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. 

“At PAWS, [the elephants] will be able to [live their rich and fulfilling lives],” Wise said.

NhRP staff are also helping people host screenings of the animal rights film “Unlocking the Cage," which follows Wise in his animal-based lawsuits. according to the NhRP website.

According to Wise, his dedication for animal-based lawsuits is based on his passion for all animals to be free.

“No elephants—beings of extraordinary cognitive complexity and autonomy—should ever be held captive against their will,” Wise said.


Rachel Philipson is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at rachel.philipson@uconn.edu.