The Nonhuman Rights Project is asking a judge to order the Fresno Chaffee Zoo to explain why it is “illegally imprisoning” three elephants at its Roeding Park attraction.

The radical notion the group’s lawyers are putting forward is that the three elephants are entitled to habeas corpus rights, which have historically been granted only to humans. If the petition is granted, the zoo would be ordered to explain and justify the elephants’ detention. Then the court would decide whether they should be released and sent to a sanctuary.

Columnist Nicholas Goldberg says he is beginning to be more sympathetic to what originally seemed like an outlandish position.