"We commend the Ojai City Council for standing up for what is necessary and just," said an advocate.
Animal rights advocates are applauding this week following a historic vote in the city of Ojai, California, where local lawmakers on Tuesday night adopted an ordinance to recognize the bodily rights of elephants, making it the first U.S. city to recognize the legal rights of nonhuman animal.
The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) helped develop and lobbied for the new ordinance, which was introduced by Councilmember Leslie Rule and passed in a 4-1 vote.
Under the ordinance, it is now illegal in Ojai to subject an elephant to the lack of freedom endured by an elephant named Tarra, who was held in captivity in Ojai Valley and exploited for entertainment—including a rollerskating act—in the early 1980s before becoming the first resident of the nation's largest elephant sanctuary in 1995.
"This legislation is historic," said Courtney Fern, director of government relations and campaigns for NhRP. "It's indisputable that elephants suffer when deprived of their freedom and that animal welfare laws can't end their suffering. For elephants and the nonhuman animal rights movement, we are proud to support this first-of-its-kind ordinance, and we commend the Ojai City Council for standing up for what is necessary and just."
"We have known for some time that elephants have strong empathetic responses to one another's condition."
The new law stems from researchers' findings that "elephants are similarly situated to humans, as they have long-term memories, learning abilities, empathy, and self-awareness," according to the city council.
"We have known for some time that elephants have strong empathetic responses to one another's condition," Mark Scott, interim Ojai city manager, toldKTLA. "I am glad that we are able to make this statement supporting the place of these noble creatures in our world."
NhRP expressed hope that the ordinance "will be the first of many such laws: introduced by elected officials who understand that a sustainable and just future for all life on Earth means extending compassion to and establishing legal rights for nonhuman animals."
"In legislatures, in courtrooms, and beyond, that's what this movement is about," said the group.
Josh Jowitt, senior lecturer on natural and animal rights at Newcastle Law School in the United Kingdom, said the ordinance should not be dismissed as pertaining to "just one city."
"It may not seem much," said Jowitt, "but this decision means that U.S. courts can no longer claim there is no precedent in the country for explicitly recognizing an elephant's right to bodily liberty."