No, India did not just grant dolphins the status of humans

Contrary to widespread reports, the Indian government did not recently grant legal personhood status to dolphins. But it did abolish the use of dolphins in aquatic theme parks — an important precedent that could eventually inspire other countries to do the same.

This news actually came out a few months ago, but it's making the rounds again. This time, however, there's considerable confusion as to what the Indian government has actually done.

The Minister of the Environment and Forests in India merely abolished the use of dolphins in marine circuses, advising state governments to reject any proposal to establish a dolphinarium “by any person/persons, organizations, government agencies, private or public enterprises that involves import, capture of cetacean species to establish for commercial entertainment, private or public exhibition and interaction purposes whatsoever.”

Which is absolutely awesome.

The probable cause for the legal personhood confusion stems from a misreading of a government statement claiming that,

Whereas cetaceans in general are highly intelligent and sensitive, and various scientists who have researched dolphin behavior have suggested that the unusually high intelligence; as compared to other animals means that dolphins should be seen as ‘non-human persons’ and as such should have their own specific rights and is morally unacceptable to keep them captive for entertainment purpose.

Of course, being seen as 'non-human persons' is far different than actually having the rights and protections of a 'non-human person.' The Indian government said that dolphins "should" be recognized as legal persons with the capacity for certain legal rights, but never in fact granted them such status or rights.

On this topic, and in a much more concerted effort, the Nonhuman Rights Project in the United States plans to file a case on behalf of its first animal client, an unnamed captive chimpanzee. Sometime in the next few months, the NHRP will file a writ of habeas corpus asking a state court judge to grant the chimp its liberty. It could go down as the first true step towards animal personhood.

More on nonhuman animal personhood here and here.

Image: Kaththea/Shutterstock.