Animal rights group taking Fresno Chaffee Zoo to court, trying to free
Marie Edinger, Fox 26 News
May 5, 2022
for photos & video.
FRESNO, CALIF.: Just last month, FOX26 News told you an animal rights group
listed the Fresno Chaffee Zoo on its ranking of the top ten worst zoos for
Now, a different animal rights group is taking the zoo to court. If it
succeeds in the long run, you may never see an elephant in a zoo again.
The Nonhuman Rights Project (NRT) filed a petition for habeas corpus, which
is normally use for people to prove they should never have been arrested
and should be let out of jail or prison. This group wants to use it to
prove elephants should be released from the zoo.
This isn’t the group’s first rodeo – it’s already got a similar case going
against the Bronx Zoo. Jake Davis, the Nonhuman Rights Project’s staff
attorney, says that case is in its second stage of appeals.
“The goal is to end elephant captivity in New York and then California, and
then if that could be parlayed to the end of elephant captivity in other
states, we’d be all for it.”
The Fresno Chaffee Zoo brought FOX26 to tour its elephant facilities after
the group In Defense of Animals Put ranked it as #9 on its list of the ten
worst zoos for elephants.
“The piece that came out was done by a group that has an agenda and has an
agenda,” said Fresno Chaffee Zoo CEO Jon Forrest Dohlin at the time. “I
will say that reasonable people can differ, but quite honestly, the ‘facts’
that were in that piece were either distorted or actually wrong.”
This time, the zoo released a statement:
“Nonhuman Rights Project is an outside group pushing a radical legal theory
that has implications for all animals in human care-- agriculture,
research, zoos and aquariums, and domestic pets. We believe that all
decisions regarding an animal’s health should be made by the experts who
have dedicated their lives to the welfare of these magnificent creatures.”
The NRP is demanding the Fresno Chaffee Zoo “come before the Court to
attempt to justify the continued imprisonment of elephants.”
Davis says the NRP started looking for bad zoos in California where it
could potentially make a case.
“We’re trying to set precedent, but we’re also using cases that have been
decided in California to bolster our claims. There are some states whose
case law is not as robust and strong in favor of our claims, so we looked
at places that have a strong history of common law and recognizing
interests like liberty and equality.”
Similarly to In Defense of Animals complaints, the Nonhuman Rights Project
says the Fresno Chaffee Zoo stole elephants from the wild, and doesn’t give
them enough space to roam – something Dohlin disputes.
“They have acres and acres of habitat,” said Dolhin. “They have free choice
to move throughout. The social grouping is up to these animals – they can
group together in either mom and cow and the bull separately, or all three
together, or individually, depending on how they want to do. That is a
well-designed exhibit that was designed to facilitate that kind of natural
“The difference between zoos and sanctuaries are the orders of magnitude.
Zoos do not allow elephants to live the lives that nature intended for
them. Sanctuaries are the closest thing to their natural habitat that we
have,” argued Davis.
The Non-Human Rights Project has its hearing date for its case against the
Bronx Zoo coming up on May 18th at the New York Court of Appeals.