Ojai, CA Becomes First U.S. City To Recognize Legal Rights Of Elephants

Ordinance gives elephants the right to liberty in Ojai

City of Ojai seal (Photo: ojai.ca.gov)

The Ojai City Council voted 4-1 on Wednesday to recognize the legal rights of elephants, becoming the first city in the United States to give legal rights to a non-human animal.

According to a press release, City Councilwoman Leslie Rule first proposed the ordinance earlier this year. Specifically, she wrote the ordinance due to how elephants in Ojai were once made to do circus tricks and were later moved to a large elephant sanctuary. The ordinance argued that elephants are cognitively, emotionally and socially complex like humans, and deserve liberty to lead healthy lives.

“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,” said Rule. “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.

“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.”

While the ordinance was  argued at great length, detractors were not able to sway the City Council from accepting the proposal, with 4 of the 5 City Council members ultimately approving it.

“It’s indisputable that elephants suffer when deprived of their freedom and that animal welfare laws can’t end their suffering,” said Nonhuman Rights Project Director of Government Relations and Campaigns Courtney Fern. “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.”

Ojai City Manager Mark Scott added, “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.”

First in the nation ordinance passed in Ojai

While the ordinance was passed, many have questioned just how far the ordinance can go. The ordinance specifically says that “Each member of the designated species within the City of Ojai, California has the right to bodily liberty. No person shall prevent any member of the designated species from exercising their right to bodily liberty.” It also notes that law enforcement officers can enforce the ordinance. Other detractors noted that the ordinance does little and is more of a publicity stunt than an actual well-meaning law.”

“You know that the law you are trying to push isn’t good when you repeatedly have to say ‘This isn’t a joke’ to the press,” said Justin Barker, a political analyst who focuses on animal and wildlife-related laws. “I mean, you’re giving rights to elephants in one small city in California. It will be tough to give a physical challenge to the law. I mean, whenever these weird wildlife laws are passed, people who are mad challenge them in weird ways. In the early 90’s, there was a big controversy protecting spotted owls at the expense of loggers in the Pacific Northwest. Loggers responded in borderline legal ways getting around the law before directly bringing it front and center by doing things like physically moving the birds.

“Some Colorado ranchers, who hate how many towns are becoming places for the elite, also utilize old rules from the 1800s to send cattle drives through town and really make all the rich people moving there mad. This Ojai law is kind of crazy and is only inviting someone to bring an elephant there and directly challenge it. It stands as an ordinance now, but it won’t really be cemented until it is firmly challenged. I mean, you have plenty of California residents facing personal liberty violations. those should have been dealt with first.”

Spread the news:


Evan Symon: Evan V. Symon is the Senior Editor for the California Globe. Prior to the Globe, he reported for the Pasadena Independent, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and was head of the Personal Experiences section at Cracked. He can be reached at evan@californiaglobe.com.

View Comments (5)

  • Anyone who has visited Ojai in recent years probably won't be surprised by this one. I like elephants, too, and I'll bet most people are fond of them, but this ordinance is irrelevant virtue-signaling trivia. Maybe Ojai is hurting for tourists and they are trying to drum up more traffic by getting attention this way?
    Are there a lot of elephant sanctuaries in Ojai? Who knew? But aren't those a bit confining too? Shouldn't the elephants be free to roam, downtown or wherever?
    “You know that the law you are trying to push isn’t good when you repeatedly have to say ‘This isn’t a joke’ to the press,” said Justin Barker....... I mean, you have plenty of California residents facing personal liberty violations. those should have been dealt with first.”
    No kidding.

    • @Raymond: Jiddu Krishnamurti was closely connected to Ojai, but he had nothing at all to do with the Hare Krishna movement or the young people you may have seen dancing, proselytizing and singing kirtan to the tune of "this land is your land, this land is my land..." Krishnamurti was an Indian philosopher of the 20th century. He belongs to a completely different category.

    • Raymond, last time I was in Ojai --- in 2016 --- it was to meet an old school friend. She was staying at one of the so-called "retreats" --- modified motels with rules to remove shoes before entering and warnings to be absolutely silent. In the parking area I noticed five or six huge black SUVs, presumably belonging to "retreat" guests. Every last one of them was emblazoned with a bumper sticker that had a variation of "F*** Donald Trump."

    These MORON's can Feel good about themselves?
    GOT ANY HOMELESS PEOPLE in your City?????

Related Post

This website uses cookies.