Ojai, California’s Elephant Rights Ordinance: “What Were They Thinking?”

By Jaclyn De Candio for Protect The Harvest

On September 26, 2023, Ojai, California, passed an ordinance that defines and protects “rights to liberty” for elephants, thereby creating the nation’s first sanctuary city for elephants! Formally titled “Adding the Right to Bodily Liberty for Elephants,” this document was introduced by city council member Leslie Rule. It was created in cooperation with the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), an animal rights extremist group.

The ordinance stems from the findings of animal researchers who claim elephants possess some human attributes, including long-term memories, learning abilities, empathy, and self-awareness. Unlike humans, elephants do not have opposable thumbs or the ability to build structures, fly airplanes, produce food, or engage in other activities routinely undertaken by humans. Those realities did not deter Leslie Rule and the NhRP.

This is a disturbing development that’s become a trend gaining momentum in the animal rights extremist space, especially when it relates to wild animals in captivity.

What are Nonhuman Animal Rights?

NhRP prides itself on being the only civil rights organization exclusively focused on granting animals legal rights “based on fundamental values and principles of justice, liberty, autonomy, equality and fairness.” No doubt they applaud the Biden administration’s moronic decision to reintroduce apex predator grizzly bears back into the wilds of Washington State, in close proximity to communities and people.

Los Angeles TV station KTLA (5) shared this statement from NhRP:

“Elephants have been found to be quite similar to humans; they are cognitively, emotionally and socially complex and are capable of suffering trauma and brain damage if they aren’t allowed to roam freely or interact with other elephants.”

Due to elephants possessing these attributes, NhRP believes captivity prevents the animal’s “right to liberty.” The only acceptable exceptions to the new ordinance are sanctuaries accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, or ones that allow elephants “to exercise their autonomy, will not place the designated species on public display, will not breed or attempt to breed the designated species and will house the designated species in a setting that closely resembles its natural habitat.” Sounds more like a prison than a sanctuary!

Revisiting Happy the Elephant

Ojai’s action echoes NhRP’s past involvement with the case of Happy the elephant living at the Bronx Zoo.

Protect The Harvest was involved in the Happy litigation in support of the Bronx Zoo, which resulted in the right decision by the New York State Court of Appeals when it correctly ruled 5-2 that elephants are not human beings with human rights. Protect The Harvest followed this case closely and covered it extensively in previous articles. We were pleased with the Court of Appeals’ June 14, 2022, ruling that Happy was not a “legal person” and couldn’t be forcefully handed over to a sanctuary. Happy remains happily at the Bronx Zoo, where she’s resided since 1977.

This case was a major win at safeguarding animals and their role in society across America. If the court decided otherwise, it would have resulted in a ripple effect across the nation, potentially impacting the ownership of any animal for any reason.

NhRP has now leveraged its experiences and learnings to convince a small southern California community’s city council to create an elephant sanctuary city where no elephants currently reside. While this action may not receive national attention as Happy did, the folks at NhRP are high-fiving this “win” as a precedent-setting victory they will use to influence other weak and/or ignorant local government officials to do the same.

Why animals do not – and cannot – have human rights

The idea of granting animals personhood is disconcerting and foolhardy. America’s constitution and entire legal system have been based on the dignity, inherent value, and responsibilities of human beings – “We the people.”

Granting human rights to animals, even those that display some human-like characteristics implies that they also have responsibilities and the capability to enter into a social contract.

This, of course, is absurd. Yet, for groups like NhRP to enforce their idea of “nonhuman personhood,” they must perpetuate the silly notion animals are equal to humans. It also begs questions as to an animal’s right to consent – will pets be able to dictate their grooming and veterinary care? If animals escape into the wild, do they have a right to roam freely and cause destruction? NhRP’s bizarre ideology requires redefining animal care and ownership into something unrecognizable.

This anthropomorphism – applying human needs, emotions, and characteristics to animals – not only threatens the quality of life for people, but it also endangers accepted and proven animal welfare practices by threatening veterinary procedures and science-based animal husbandry and healthcare treatments.

Ojai’s ridiculous and ill-conceived ordinance is a reminder to be wary of the matters your regional and local government addresses. Animal extremist groups seek wins whenever and wherever possible to push their agenda. Follow Protect The Harvest as we remain vigilant and raise awareness about scenarios such as the one in Ojai.


Happy the Elephant Descision HERE

Habease Corpus Heard By Supreme Court HERE

Habeas Corpus Article HERE

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