WEST SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - We're following developing news after learning that a second elephant belonging to the R.W. Commerford Zoo, named Karen, died earlier this year.

Western Mass News getting confirmation about the death from the U.S.D.A. this afternoon.

The news comes shortly after Beulah the elephant passed away earlier this week.

It's a story many of you have connected with and a story that Western Mass News has been working to get answers on.

Tonight, we not only spoke with the Big E, but also with an activist organization that explained why they are persuing litigation against the animal's owners, the Commerford family.

"These animals are slaves and the Commerfords treat them as slaves, and what happens when you have a slave is you can work them to death," Steven Wise, President of the Nonhuman Rights Projects, tells us.

Friday afternoon, the U.S.D.A. confirmed two of the R.W. Commerford's Zoo's elephants died this year.

We first learned that Beulah the Asian elephant died of natural causes at the Big E on Sunday morning, and now we know that Karen the African elephant died back in March.

Speaking to Western Mass News via Skype, President of the Nonhuman Rights Project Steven Wise says they already have the wheels in motion for a new lawsuit.

"We are going to be telling them that two, four, three clients are dead and then we'll be seeking some sort of an injunction against them," explained Wise.

The Nonhuman Rights Project filed a 2017 lawsuit looking to get the three elephants owned by the Commerford Zoo declared autonomous beings and moved to a sanctuary, something that Eastern States Exposition President and CEO Gene Cassidy says would be to the elephants' detriment.

"It's been illegal since 1972, so any elephant has been born in captivity and they don't know the wild. You hear the zealous people say they need to be in a sanctuary, but they wouldn't survive there, because they need our help," said Cassidy.

He tells Western Mass News that he and the entire Big E family are still grieving the loss of both Beulah and Karen.

"Beulah was an institution unto herself and all of us are grieving for her loss, but it was her time to pass. Karen was an old woman and a lovely, beautiful animal and did a lot of good. We miss her as well," says Cassidy.

He also expressed his condolences to the Commerford family, and made it clear that they have been a vital part of the Eastern States Exposition for decades.

"The Commerfords would not be on this property unless they were the gold standard for animal husbandry. I know them well. I see their animals. They love their animals," noted Cassidy.

In a statement from the Commerford family they say:

"We are heartbroken. We have lost a member of our family… we are grateful that she was with us as long as she was. On behalf of the Commerford family, I thank all of those who, too, fell in love with Beulah. Who understood her elephant ways and personality, and how much she loved doing what she did, and each of us."

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

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