US judge: Pablo Escobar’s cocaine hippos legally ‘people’

Oct 25, 2021, 10:09 AM | Updated: 9:20 pm

The offspring of hippos once owned by Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar can be recognized as people or “interested persons” with legal rights in the U.S. following a federal court order.

The case involves a lawsuit against the Colombian government over whether to kill or sterilize the hippos whose numbers are growing at a fast pace and pose a threat to biodiversity.

An animal rights groups is hailing the order as a milestone victory in the long sought efforts to sway the U.S. justice system to grant animals personhood status. But the order won’t carry any weight in Colombia where the hippos live, a legal expert said.

“The ruling has no impact in Colombia because they only have an impact within their own territories. It will be the Colombian authorities who decide what to do with the hippos and not the American ones,” said Camilo Burbano Cifuentes, a criminal law professor at the Universidad Externado de Colombia.

The “cocaine hippos” are descendants of animals that Escobar illegally imported to his Colombian ranch in the 1980s when he reigned over the country’s drug trade. After his death in a 1993 shootout with authorities, the hippos were abandoned at the estate and left to thrive with no natural predators — their numbers have increased in the last eight years from 35 to somewhere between 65 and 80.

A group of scientists has warned that the hippos pose a major threat to the area’s biodiversity and could lead to deadly encounters with humans. They are advocating for some of the animals to be killed. A government agency has started sterilizing some of the hippos, but there is a debate on what are the safest methods.

In the suit, attorneys for the Animal Legal Defense Fund asked the U.S. District Court in Cincinnati to give “interested persons” status to the hippos so that two wildlife experts in sterilization from Ohio could be deposed in the case.

Federal magistrate Judge Karen Litkovitz in Cincinnati granted the request on Oct. 15. The animal rights group based near San Francisco said it believes it’s the first time animals have been declared legal persons in the U.S.

Their attorneys argued that because advocates for the hippos can bring lawsuits to protect their interests in Colombia that the hippos should be allowed to be considered “interested persons” under U.S. law.

They pointed to a federal statute that allows anyone who is an “interested person” in a foreign lawsuit to ask a federal court to permit them to take depositions in the U.S. in support of their case.

Christopher Berry, the lead attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, called it a narrow but profound ruling.

“This really is part of a bigger movement of advocating that animals’ interest be represented in court,” he said. “We’re not asking to make up a new law. We’re just asking that animals have the ability to enforce the rights that have already been given to them.”

While animals have been granted legal rights in India, Pakistan and Argentina, courts in the U.S. have been unwilling to do so until now.

A judge in Connecticut called a petition filed four years ago by an animal rights group to grant personhood to three elephants in a traveling petting zoo “wholly frivolous.”

In another closely watched case, the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, agreed in May to decide whether an elephant at the Bronx Zoo should get human-like rights and be moved to a sanctuary.

Earlier rulings dismissed the claims from the animal rights groups. The zoo contends that granting legal “personhood” to the the elephant named Happy would set a dangerous precedent and has called the efforts “ludicrous.” Gun rights groups also have criticized the move out of concern it could impact hunting or set a precedent.

Backers point to court rulings that have given corporations legal rights and considered them to be legal persons — reasoning that animals should be treated the same under the law.

“Legal personhood is just the ability to have your interest heard and represented in court,” Berry said. “It’s about enforcing rights they already have under animal cruelty laws and other protection laws.”

___

Seewer reported from Toledo, Ohio. Associated Press writers Astrid Suarez in Bogota, Colombia, and Regina Garcia Cano in Mexico City contributed.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, managed by CoreCivic, is pictured on May 24, 2016, in ...
Associated Press

Private prison firm to settle lawsuit over inmate death

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A private prison company has agreed to settle a federal lawsuit over a Tennessee inmate’s killing that got national attention after a judge ordered the plaintiff’s attorney to stop tweeting about it. Tennessee-based CoreCivic and attorney Daniel Horwitz, who represents the family of the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center inmate who died, […]
9 hours ago
FILE - The sun shines on the dome of Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Aug. 12, 2022. A man drove...
Associated Press

Police: Man killed himself after ramming US Capitol barrier

WASHINGTON (AP) — A man drove his car into a barricade near the U.S. Capitol early Sunday and then began firing gunshots in the air before fatally shooting himself, police said. The incident happened just before 4 a.m. at a vehicle barricade set at East Capitol Street NE and 2nd Street SE in Washington. It […]
9 hours ago
FILE - Rishi Sunak during a hustings event in Darlington, England, Aug. 9, 2022, as part of the cam...
Associated Press

‘China threat’ emerges in elections from UK to Australia

LONDON (AP) — It’s not just the economy. While inflation and recession fears weigh heavily on the minds of voters, another issue is popping up in political campaigns from the U.K. and Australia to the U.S. and beyond: the “China threat.” The two finalists vying to become Britain’s next prime minister, Liz Truss and Rishi […]
9 hours ago
Hadi Matar, 24, second from right, listens as his public defense attorney Nathaniel Barone, center,...
Associated Press

Salman Rushdie ‘on the road to recovery,’ agent says

MAYVILLE, N.Y. (AP) — Salman Rushdie is “on the road to recovery,” his agent confirmed Sunday, two days after the author of “The Satanic Verses” suffered serious injuries in a stabbing at a lecture in upstate New York. The announcement followed news that the lauded writer was removed from a ventilator Saturday and able to […]
9 hours ago
FILE - Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz listens to testimony while seated ...
Associated Press

School shooter’s brain exams to be subject of court hearing

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A defense mental health expert in the penalty trial of Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz can pinpoint when he realized the 23-year-old mass murderer still has “irrational thoughts” — the two were making small talk when Cruz began describing plans for an eventual life outside prison. Wesley Center, a Texas […]
9 hours ago
Caroline Hansen uses Emma's Premium Services, a higher-priced service according to Hansen, to shop ...
Associated Press

New York restricts families from sending packages to inmates

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — As part of an effort to keep illegal drugs and other contraband out of state prisons, New York is taking away one of the few pleasures of life behind bars: It will no longer let people send inmates care packages from home. Under the new policy, which the state began phasing […]
9 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Here are 4 signs the HVAC unit needs to be replaced

Pool renovations and kitchen upgrades may seem enticing, but at the forefront of these investments arguably should be what residents use the most. In a state where summertime is sweltering, access to a functioning HVAC unit can be critical.
...
Sanderson Ford

Don’t let rising fuel prices stop you from traveling Arizona this summer

There's no better time to get out on the open road and see what the beautiful state of Arizona has to offer. But if the cost of gas is putting a cloud over your summer vacation plans, let Sanderson Ford help with their wide-range selection of electric vehicles.
...
Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

Why your student-athlete’s physical should be conducted by a sports medicine specialist

Dr. Anastasi from Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Tempe answers some of the most common questions.
US judge: Pablo Escobar’s cocaine hippos legally ‘people’