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CA city passes first-of-its-kind elephant rights law

By Jake Beardslee · September 28, 2023

In brief…

  • The Ojai City Council voted 4-1 to adopt an ordinance granting fundamental rights to elephants.
  • The ordinance aims to protect elephants from captivity, where they can suffer psychological trauma.
  • The elephant rights ordinance was developed with the Nonhuman Rights Project.
Ojai made history as the first American city to give legal rights to elephants.  Byrdyak/Wikimedia

The city of Ojai in Southern California made history this week, becoming the first U.S. city to recognize the rights of elephants elephants.

On Tuesday night, the Ojai City Council voted 4-1 to adopt an ordinance granting fundamental legal rights to elephants, including the right to liberty.

The ordinance was introduced by Council Member Leslie Rule and drafted in coordination with the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), an animal rights organization.

“It’s indisputable that elephants suffer when deprived of their freedom and that animal welfare laws can’t end their suffering,” Rule said in an NhRP press release. “For elephants and the nonhuman animal rights movement, we are proud to support this first-of-its-kind ordinance.”

The new law aims to protect elephants from being held captive in zoos and circuses, where they are deprived of the ability to roam freely and interact with other elephants. Studies have shown that elephants are highly intelligent, emotional, and social beings who can suffer severe psychological trauma when kept in confinement.

“We have known for some time that elephants have strong empathetic responses to one another’s condition,” Mark Scott, the Interim Ojai City Manager, told KTLA News 5. “I am glad that we are able to make this statement supporting the place of these noble creatures in our world.”

The NhRP plans to work with other cities in California and nationwide to pass similar legislation granting basic rights to elephants and other animals. This marks a significant milestone for the animal rights movement, which has long fought to establish legal personhood rights for animals.