Southern California city grants elephants the right to freedom, first in the nation
Ojai, California, became the first city in the nation to recognize elephant rights after it passed a recent ordinance protecting the animals.
The ordinance, which passed 4-1 in a city council vote Tuesday, will take effect on Oct. 26.
The legislation grants elephants “freedom from forced confinement, extraneous control, or restricted choice imposed by any person,” and says that the rights granted “entail the ability to act autonomously without restraint, coercion, or control by any person.”
The new ordinance forbids keeping elephants in captivity in most cases, such as for public display at a zoo, for breeding or for entertainment. Exceptions are carved out for sanctuaries accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries and for facilities that allow elephants to act naturally in a habitat similar to those in the wild.
A report from the city council cites the work of some animal researchers who say that since elephants have long-term memory, the ability to learn, self-awareness and empathy, the animals deserve similar rights to those of human beings.
City officials framed the ordinance as advancing societal progress.
“It isn’t a joke. We can do some real good here, as well as being on the right side of history. Let’s encourage society to evolve its basic understanding of its relationship to all nonhuman entities,” said Ojai City Councilwoman Leslie Rule, who first introduced the ordinance, according to the California Globe.
There are no zoos currently in Ojai, and the ordinance, restricted specifically to elephants, does not apply to the nonprofit Ojai Raptor Center. The closest zoos to Ojai in Santa Barbara, California, and Moorpark, California, do not have elephants at their facilities.
The new ordinance was written with the aid of the nonprofit Nonhuman Rights Project. In a statement, the group cheered the first-in-the-nation decision to recognize the freedom of elephants beyond the purview of animal welfare laws.
“This legislation is historic. It’s indisputable that elephants suffer when deprived of their freedom and that animal welfare laws can’t end their suffering. … 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,” the Nonhuman Rights Project said in a statement.