Steven Wise, animal rights pioneer, dies at 73

By Michael Doyle | 02/22/2024 01:43 PM EST

A groundbreaking lawyer, Wise waged court battles seeking recognition of the rights of animals.

Attorney Steven Wise of the Nonhuman Rights Project.

Steven Wise argues Oct. 8, 2014 ,on behalf of Tommy, a chimpanzee, before the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division in Albany, New York. Mike Groll/AP

Ojai, California, is a quaint little mountain town known for art galleries, cool vibes and, thanks to the legal vision of the late Steven Wise, a unique regard for elephants.

Home to about 7,900 human residents, Ojai last fall became the first U.S. jurisdiction to formally recognize what its municipal code now enshrines as a “Right to Bodily Liberty for Elephants.”

Taking a page from Wise’s playbook, one he developed over decades as a groundbreaking animal rights advocate, the Ojai City Council last September voted 4-1 to adopt the elephant rights measure. It means, for instance, that an elephant that happens to find itself aggrieved in Ojai can obtain relief through a habeas corpus petition.


“This is Ojai being ahead of the curve,” Councilwoman Leslie Rule said during the debate, adding that “when you are a thing, you have no rights, [but] when you have rights, you can go to court and say these rights are not being upheld.”