WEST SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- It's been our most talked-about, most clicked-on story on our website - the death of Beulah, the elephant featured at The Big E this year - has not only our local community asking questions, but also animal welfare activists nationwide.

Western Mass News has obtained documents from a lawsuit that's been filed against Beulah's owners, the R.W. Commerford Zoo.

The Big E announced Wednesday that Beulah, the 54-year-old Asian elephant, died of natural causes.

However, lawyers with the Nonhuman Rights Project said they filed a lawsuit to protect the three Commerford elephants back in 2017 and that they'll continue to fight for the remaining elephants.

Long before a photo was taken at what's believed to be Beulah's last public appearance, lawyers with the Nonhuman Rights Project were trying to have the elephant declared an autonomous being, rather than a thing.

In their lawsuit, they said quote. "classifying Beulah, Minnie, and Karen as “things” solely because they are not human, thereby denying them the capacity for any legal right, is so arbitrary and unjust that it violates basic common law equality..."

They went on to say: "...Beulah, Minnie, and Karen are autonomous and that their interest in exercising their autonomy is as fundamental to them as it is to us."

"Keeping them confined to a barn or a small pen or a parking lot at The Big E to pose for photographs and walk around, that’s not enough," said Courtney Fern with the Nonhuman Rights Project.

Fern works with the Connecticut-based non-profit. She said her group secured Beulah and other Commerford elephants placement in a sanctuary at no cost to the Commerfords.

"The death, the sadness even more amplified because there was - they had the opportunity - an open invitation to send them to a sanctuary where they could live out their lives, really as any elephant should be able to do," Fern explained.

They are hoping to have their case heard by the Connecticut Supreme Court in October.

In the last 24 hours, PETA, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and Humane Society of the United States have all released statements, all calling for the end of traveling zoos like the R.W. Commerford Zoo.

Fern echoed those sentiments.

"To prevent them from having human-caused suffering is to allow them to live freely in their natural habitat," Fern said.

We have reached out to The Big E and to the Commerfords for a comment. The Commerfords have not responded. The Big E said they have no additional comments at this time.

Copyright 2019 Western Mass News (Meredith Corporation).  All rights reserved.

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