On 26th September 2023, the California city of Ojai, northwest of Los Angeles, became the first in the US to give elephants some legal rights. In a majority vote, the Ojai City Council adopted an ordinance brought forth by Councilmember Leslie Rule, written in conjunction with the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of animal rights. The ordinance gives elephants the right to bodily liberty.
Rule said to the California Globe, “This ordinance will codify for Ojai an elephant’s fundamental right to bodily liberty, which just simply means that you cannot hold an elephant captive in Ojai unless the space is comparable to an accredited sanctuary, What we can do is we can show, by passing this ordinance, that we are part of a society that sees the changes happening around our understanding of the emotional and psychological and physical complexity of these large, sentient beings that are being held captive in zoos.”
Ojai City Manager Mark Scott, said to KTLA, “We have known for some time that elephants have strong empathetic responses to one another’s condition. I am glad that we are able to make this statement supporting the place of these noble creatures in our world.”
In a statement, the NhRP said, “In the early 1980s, an elephant named Tarra was held in captivity in Ojai Valley and used for entertainment, including in an act where she was made to rollerskate. In 1995, Tarra became the first resident of what is now the largest elephant sanctuary in the US. Under this ordinance, which passed by a vote of 4-1, it is now illegal in Ojai to subject an elephant to the lack of freedom Tarra endured. The ordinance expressly recognizes that elephants possess the right to liberty, prohibits any person from preventing elephants from exercising their right to liberty, and details how the law will be enforced and the penalty for violating it.”