Ojai, California, has become the first city in the nation to recognize the rights of elephants by passing an ordinance to protect them.
The ordinance, which was approved in a 4-1 city council vote on Tuesday, will be effective from October 26.
The legislation grants elephants the “freedom from forced confinement, extraneous control, or restricted choice imposed by any person,” and states that they have the rights to act autonomously without restraint or coercion.
Under the new ordinance, keeping elephants in captivity for public display at zoos, breeding, or entertainment purposes will be prohibited in most cases. However, exceptions are made for accredited sanctuaries and facilities that offer elephants a habitat resembling the wild.
A report from the city council highlights the work of animal researchers who argue that elephants deserve similar rights to humans due to their long-term memory, ability to learn, self-awareness, and empathy.
City officials view the ordinance as an advancement in societal progress.
Leslie Rule, an Ojai City Councilwoman who introduced the ordinance, stated, “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,” according to the California Globe.
The ordinance only applies to elephants and does not affect the nonprofit Ojai Raptor Center as there are no zoos currently in Ojai. The closest zoos in Santa Barbara and Moorpark do not have elephants.
The nonprofit Nonhuman Rights Project assisted in drafting the ordinance. The group hailed the decision as historic in recognizing the freedom of elephants beyond the scope of animal welfare laws. They stated, “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.”