Animals Are Legal Persons, Says US Court For The First Time

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Animals have been recognised as legal persons for the first time in a US District Court. The case relates to the global fight to protect hippos left by Pablo Escobar to be slaughtered, with a US federal court order recognising that animals can be legal persons. 

The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) has hailed a win for animals, with the District Court for the Southern District of Ohio recognising animals as legal persons for the first time in US history. The ALDF filed an application to the court on behalf of the plaintiffs, the “community of hippopotamuses living in the Magdalena River.”

These hippos, around 100 of them, are set to be killed by the Colombian government to curb their population growth as a result of Pablo Escobar’s importing of the animals into the country in the 1980s. 

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Animals are legal persons

By granting the ADLF’s application, the US court recognised hippos as legal persons with respect to a statute that allows any “interested persons” to request permission from courts to take depositions in the US in support of the foreign case. 

“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,” commented ALDF executive director Stephen Wells. 

“The court’s order authorizing the hippos to exercise their legal right to obtain information in the US is a critical milestone in the broader animal status fight to recognize that animals have enforceable rights.”

ALDF executive director Stephen Wells. (Image: ALDF)

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The case 

The ALDF is supporting a lawsuit in Colombia filed by attorney Luis Domingo Gómez in July last year to save the animals from being slaughtered. The case, which is still ongoing, seeks an order to provide a contraceptive called PZP (porcine zona pellucida) to the hippos, rather than killing them. 

This contraceptive has proved successful when used in zoos and has been recommended by the international NGO Animal Balance, which is dedicated to the sterilisation of animals. Since October this year, the Colombian government has begun using the GonaCon contraceptive on the hippos, but it is unknown whether this drug is safe, effective and how many animals the government still plans to kill in the future. 

Dr. Elizabeth Berkeley and Dr. Richard Berlinski, wildlife experts at Animal Balance, are set to give testimony to support the use of PZP to prevent the hippo population in the region from growing unsustainably, while preventing the need to harm or kill any of them. 

All images courtesy of Pixabay, unless otherwise credited.


  • Sally Ho

    Sally Ho is Green Queen's former resident writer and lead reporter. Passionate about the environment, social issues and health, she is always looking into the latest climate stories in Hong Kong and beyond. A long-time vegan, she also hopes to promote healthy and plant-based lifestyle choices in Asia. Sally has a background in Politics and International Relations from her studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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