Since Elephants Are As Smart As Great Apes & Dolphins, Isn't It Time For Elephant Rights?

asian elephant group

photo: Lazurite/Creative Commons

The news cycle has resurrected an interesting and important piece of research, which TreeHugger original reported on three months ago, on elephants' ability to cooperate with one another and their intelligence. The quick recap is that elephants work together with at least as much ability as chimpanzees and other great apes, and dolphins. Huffington Post quotes lead research Joshua Plotnik:

[Elephants] help others in distress. They seem in some ways emotionally attached to each other, so you would expect there would be some level of cooperation. [But] I was surprised how quickly they learned.

The HuffPo piece goes into the sort of experiments done, largely similar this time around (and frankly it's not clear if this is a new round of research or just a reiteration of what was publicized back in March). Either of the two links above take you to accounts of the sort of tests the elephants were put though in Thailand.

What all this brings to mind, on second and most recent read, is what this means for the nascent movement to grant non-human animal species the equivalent of human rights, inherent rights of being.

If elephants really have the cognitive ability, the emotional capacity, social grouping at the same level of great apes and cetaceans, ought we not add them to the list of creatures that are essential 'people', individuals with a right to exist without unnecessary intrusions into their lives and ability to carry on living, granted the right (as the proposed Declaration of Cetacean Rights puts it), "life, liberty and wellbeing".

Here are the points of that declaration, which seems to me to be a good starting point for other non-human rights declarations--however far off actual implementation of those may be:

  1. Every individual cetacean has the right to life.
  2. No cetacean should be held in captivity or servitude; be subject to cruel treatment; or be removed from their natural environment.
  3. All cetaceans have the right to freedom of movement and residence within their natural environment.
  4. No cetacean is the property of any State, corporation, human group or individual.
  5. Cetaceans have the right not to be subject to the disruption of their cultures.
  6. The rights, freedoms, and norms set forth in this Declaration should be protected under international and domestic law.
  7. Cetaceans are entitled to an international order in which these rights, freedoms and norms can be fully realized.
  8. No State, corporation, human group, or individual should engage in any activity that undermines these rights, freedoms, or norms.
  9. Noting in this Declaration shall prevent a State from enacting stricter provisions for the protection of cetacean rights.

More on Elephants
Liberia Has Lost 95 Percent Of Its Elephants To Poachers
Elephants Cooperate With One Another As Well As Apes Do

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