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Beulah, elephant at center of ‘personhood’ case, dies at Big E

Beulah, a 54-year-old Asian elephant, has died.Courtesy of The Big E

An Asian elephant that was recently exhibited at The Big E and was central to a legal effort to grant animals “personhood,” has died, according to the group that runs the West Springfield fair.

Fifty-four-year-old Beulah “had many fans and was dearly loved by her family, as well as her friends at Eastern States Exposition,” according to a statement from the group.

Beulah and two other elephants are at the center of a Connecticut legal case in which a group called the Nonhuman Rights Project has asked the courts to grant the animals the same rights as humans. Here is a look at the dispute.


What’s the basis for the legal challenge?

Beulah was owned by R.W. Commerford & Sons Traveling Petting Zoo in Goshen, Conn. The rights project had said Beulah and the other elephants are being detained illegally in “deplorable” conditions and want them moved to a wildlife sanctuary, according to the Associated Press. The case has been appealed to the state’s Supreme Court.

The Nonhuman Rights Project said Beulah was born in the wild in Myanmar in 1967 and imported between 1969 and 1973.

According to that group, she was sold to the Commerford Zoo in 1973 and was used in circuses and fairs.

“Our fight to secure recognition of our elephants clients’ right to liberty and their release to a sanctuary will continue, in Beulah’s name and in the names of all the elephants before her who have found freedom only in death,” the group said in a statement.

The group previously filed unsuccessful lawsuits on behalf of four captive chimpanzees in New York.

What happened to Beulah?

In a Wednesday statement, the organization said Beulah died “after collapsing multiple times at the Big E fair.”

While The Big E said the elephant died of natural causes, a spokesman for the US Department of Agriculture said the cause of her death is unknown. The spokesman confirmed that her death was reported to the department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.


Gene Cassidy, Eastern States Exposition president, said the Big E was broken-hearted over the loss.

“If you truly loved Beulah, kindly remember her and the Commerford family in your thoughts and prayers,” he said, “They have lost a loved one.”

The 17-day fair, which runs until Sept. 29, has drawn more than 350,000 attendees this year, according to the Big E’s website.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com.