Animals Designated as “People” in Court for the First Time

Animals Designated as

( – It’s a twist that would have amused George Orwell, but even the author of Animal Farm might have struggled to believe that a herd of hippos are really people. Nevertheless, that’s what an Ohio court has just decided.

Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar had a taste for smuggling, and when he wasn’t shipping cocaine to the US, he brought in illegally captured wildlife for his personal menagerie. The stars of the collection were four African hippopotami, but after Escobar was killed by police in 1993, the giant animals were set free. It seems they like the climate in Colombia, because by now the original four animals have founded a herd of 80 to 120 hippos.

The Colombian government isn’t keen on having its rivers full of short-tempered two-ton animals that can bite a canoe in half, so they’ve planned a cull – but activists from the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) are fighting to save the hippos. One of the tactics they’re using is to file lawsuits in US courts. Even though the courts have no jurisdiction in Colombia, the suits can force the publishing of pro-ALDF documents. On October 15, an Ohio judge ruled on one of these cases, calling on two biologists to explain how the hippos could be sterilized instead of killed.

However, the US District Court for Southern Ohio went further than that. The judge ruled that the hippos should be recognized as having legal personhood – something that’s legal under Colombian, but not US, law. That makes Escobar’s hippos the first non-human people to be legally recognized in the US.

It’s a landmark case – but what’s the point of it? The hippos are still in Colombia, and they’re not even legal immigrants there. Is this a case of animal rights outrunning our ability to enforce them, or is the Biden administration planning to give them citizenship?

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