Though their filing said the animals were kept in “deplorable conditions,” it didn’t challenge their treatment. Instead, it said the elephants should be freed because they “possess such fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty, and those other legal rights to which evolving standards of morality, scientific discovery, and human experience entitle them.”
In its decision Tuesday, the court disagreed, ruling that Wise lacked standing to sue because he had no relationship with the animals — and that the trio could not be freed because pachyderms are not people.
“Does the petitioner’s legal theory that an elephant is a legal person entitled to those same liberties extended to you and I have a possibility or probability of victory?” Judge James Bentivegna wrote. “The petitioner is unable to point to any authority which has held so, but instead relies on basic human rights of freedom and equality.”
The judge concluded that “the petition is wholly frivolous on its face.”
In an interview Thursday, Wise said the Nonhuman Rights Project would amend its petition to better demonstrate its relationship with the elephants or challenge the decision on appeal. He compared his quest to free animals with attempts to secure rights for slaves and women — attempts historically foiled when slaves and women were not considered people under common law.
“Not only will we win, it is inevitable that we will win,” he said.
This is not the first time Wise has tried but failed to free captive animals. In June, a New York state appeals court declined to release two chimpanzees kept in cages by private owners after the Nonhuman Rights Project filed petitions for habeas corpus.
“The asserted cognitive and linguistic capabilities of chimpanzees do not translate to a chimpanzee’s capacity or ability, like humans, to bear legal duties, or to be held legally accountable for their actions,” Justice Troy Webber wrote in that case.
Tim Commerford owns the Commerford Zoo, where the elephants, ranging in age from 33 to 50, live in northwestern Connecticut. He told The Washington Post in November that the animals have belonged to the zoo for at least three decades.
“They’re part of our family,” he said.
Wise continues to challenge that description, saying the elephants are herded with hooks. “I guarantee the owners do not treat family members the way they treat elephants,” he said.