For the First Time, A US Court Recognizes Animals As Legal Persons

For the first time this month, a US court recognized animals as legal persons. The case was filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, where the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) sought to depose two Ohio-based nonsurgical sterilization experts, doctors Elizabeth Berkeley and Richard Berlinski. Plaintiffs are described as a “community of hippopotamuses living in the Magdalena River,” and the experts would be speaking on their behalf. The US district court granted the motion to conduct discovery for use in international proceedings according to 28 U.S.C. 1782 as part of an ongoing Colombian litigation in which the Plaintiff hippos have standing as legal people—and in doing so acknowledged the hippos as legal persons under that legislation.

Under the statute, any “interested person” in a foreign lawsuit can ask a federal court for authorization to take depositions in the United States in support of their case. ALDF reasoned that while Colombia recognized the hippos as legal parties in the action, they are collectively “interested persons” under the statute.

“Animals have the right to be free from cruelty and exploitation, and the failure of US courts to recognize their rights impedes the ability to enforce existing legislative protections,” ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells said. “The court’s order authorizing the hippos to exercise their legal right to obtain information in the United States is a critical milestone in the broader animal status fight to recognize that animals have enforceable rights.”

Hippos of Pablo Escobar

The Plaintiffs’ suffering dates back to the 1980s, when Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar bought four hippos for his own zoo. The Colombian government left the hippos on Escobar’s property after his death in 1993, claiming that it was unable to relocate them to a suitable location. Hippos have now escaped the property and settled along the Magdalena River, where ecologists claim they are reproducing at an unsustainable rate.

Attorney Luis Domingo Gómez Maldonado filed the action in Colombia in July 2020 to prevent the government from shooting the approximately 100 hippos that had taken up residence along the Magdalena River. The local environmental authorities began feeding the hippos the contraceptive GonaCon on October 15, 2021, despite the fact that its safety and efficacy are unknown. It’s also unclear how many hippos the government plans to slaughter. Instead, the complaint seeks an order that the hippos be given PZP (porcine zona pellucida), a historically effective contraceptive in hippos that was suggested by an International Advisory Committee created by Animal Balance, an international organization dedicated to animal sterilization.

The testimony of doctors Berkeley and Berlinski, who are wildlife experts for Animal Balance, will be used to bolster support for the use of PZP instead of slaughtering Magdelena river hippos now that the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio has granted the application for discovery to go forward.

Outside of the United States, animals are considered legal persons

In many locations, legal personhood is not restricted to individuals, such as in the United States, where companies are recognized as legal persons in court, and in South American countries, where the Amazon river has legal rights as well. While animals, which are traditionally regarded as property, are only now beginning to gain legal recognition in the United States, other countries, such Colombia, acknowledge animals as having legal persons.

In India, the Punjab and Haryana High Court awarded animals legal person or entity status in 2019, granting them “corresponding rights, duties, and liabilities of a living person” in the state of Haryana. Justice Rajiv Sharma, who presided over a similar verdict at the Uttarakhand High Court in 2018, explained that his decision was based on the disparity between who and what has previously been awarded legal personhood.

“T​​he corporations, Hindu idols, holy scriptures, rivers have been declared legal entities and thus, in order to protect and promote greater welfare of animals including avian and aquatic, animals are required to be conferred with the status of legal entity/legal person,” Justice Sharma stated in his ruling. “The animals should be healthy, comfortable, well nourished, safe, able to express innate behavior without pain, fear, and distress. They are entitled to justice. The animals cannot be treated as objects or property.” 

Source: “US Court Recognizes Animals As Legal Persons For The First Time” by VegNews


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