The ordinance was introduced by City Councilmember Leslie Rule, a Democrat, and developed with the aid of the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) nonprofit. It passed by a vote of four in favor and one against on Tuesday, Sept. 26, and will go into effect on Oct. 26.
The ordinance adds the "Right to Bodily Liberty for Elephants" to the Ojai Municipal Code, with city officials claiming it as "advancing societal progress." Moreover, the effort to recognize this right for elephants arises from researchers who found "elephants to be similarly situated to humans, as they have long-term memories, learning abilities, empathy and self-awareness."
Interim Ojai City Manager Mark Scott noted that scientists "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," he added. (Related: Animal feelings: Study reveals elephants mourn their dead like humans.)
Rule first proposed the ordinance earlier this year. She wrote it supposedly due to how elephants in Ojai previously were made to do circus tricks before being moved to a large elephant sanctuary.
"It isn't a joke. We can do some real good here, as well as being on the right side of history," said Rule. "Let's encourage society to evolve its basic understanding of its relationship to all nonhuman entities."
The Ojai ordinance grants elephants "freedom from forced confinement, extraneous control or restricted choice imposed by any person," and says that the rights granted to elephants give them "the ability to act autonomously without restraint, coercion or control by any person."
The new ordinance forbids keeping elephants in captivity for most cases, such as for public display at a zoo, for breeding or for entertainment.
Exceptions have been given for elephant sanctuaries accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries as well as for facilities that allow elephants to act naturally in a habitat similar to those found in the wild.
But Ojai does not have zoos. The Ojai Raptor Center, a bird rescue and rehabilitation center, is also exempted from the ordinance. The closest zoos to Ojai are in the cities of Santa Barbara and Moorpark, and these do not have elephants.
Nevertheless, the NhRP, a nonprofit dedicated to giving stronger legal rights to animals, noted in its statement that Ojai's new ordinance is one of the first in the nation that recognizes the freedom of elephants beyond the purview of common 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," said NhRP Director of Government Relations and Campaigns Courtney Fern in a statement. "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."
The NhRP now looks forward to working with other cities in California and across the country to pass similar nonhuman animal rights legislation.
Learn more about animals and wildlife at Ecology.news.
Watch the following video discussing whether animals like elephants should have rights.
This video is from the Daily Videos channel on Brighteon.com.