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Court rejects appeal in elephant rights case

HARTFORD — Animal rights advocates lost another legal battle Friday in their efforts to free three elephants from a Connecticut petting zoo.

A three-judge panel of the Connecticut Appellate Court upheld a lower court and rejected an appeal by the Nonhuman Rights Project, which had filed a habeas corpus petition on behalf of the elephants.

The group, based in Coral Springs, Florida, alleges elephants Beulah, Minnie and Karen are being detained illegally in poor conditions at the Goshen-based Commerford Zoo and wants them moved to a natural habitat sanctuary. It also argues the elephants have “personhood” rights that entitle them to the same liberty rights as humans.

The judges determined the group does not have legal standing to file legal actions on behalf of the elephants, who themselves would not have standing to sue because they’re not human.

Judge Christine Keller wrote that allowing the elephants to use habeas corpus laws “would require us to upend this state’s legal system to allow highly intelligent, if not all, nonhuman animals the right to bring suit in a court of law. At this juncture, we decline to make such sweeping pronouncements when there exists so little authority for doing so.”

Steven Wise, president of the Nonhuman Rights Project, said the group plans to appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.

“It is for Beulah, Karen and Minnie’s sake that we lament this court’s failure to confront the injustice of our elephant clients’ thinghood and lack of rights,” Wise said in a statement. “It is their rightlessness that keeps them imprisoned and exploited in the Commerford Zoo.”

The Commerford Zoo has not responded to messages seeking comment and did not file briefs in the case.

Zoo owner Tim Commerford has previously defended how the zoo cares for the elephants, denied claims of mistreatment and said the elephants were like family.

The Nonhuman Rights Project has argued in the suit that elephants “are autonomous beings who live extraordinarily complex emotional, social, and intellectual lives and who possess those complex abilities sufficient for common law personhood and the common law right to bodily liberty.”

When Superior Court Judge James Bentivegna dismissed the lawsuit in December 2017, he called the group’s petition “wholly frivolous on its face in legal terms.”

Also in 2017, a New York appeals court ruled two chimpanzees that were caged in a trailer lot and at a primate sanctuary don’t have the legal rights of people, in a case also involving the Nonhuman Rights Project.

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