HARTFORD, Conn. -- A Connecticut judge this week denied a petition by an animal rights group to grant personhood to three elephants in a travelling petting zoo, calling the request "wholly frivolous."

The Nonhuman Rights Project sued in November on behalf of elephants at Commerford Zoo, based in Goshen. The group wanted the elephants released to a natural habitat sanctuary.

Elephants "have a sense of self, remember the past and plan for the future, engage in complex communication, show empathy, and mourn their dead," the Florida-based group said in its complaint.

In addition, the group also said that "'Person' is not a synonym for 'human being,' but designates an entity with the capacity for legal rights."

Superior Court Judge James Bentivegna called the petition "wholly frivolous on its face in legal terms," in his decision released Tuesday.

The Nonhuman Rights Project did not have a prior relationship with the elephants, and thus did not have standing to bring the petition, the judge ruled. He also found there is no precedent for providing elephants the rights of personhood.

The Nonhuman Rights Project is reviewing the decision, a spokeswoman said.

"We're happy with the decision," zoo co-owner Darlene Commerford said. "It was a frivolous case."

The three female elephants, Asians Beulah, 48, Minnie, 46, and African Karen, 34, all have been with the zoo since they were 4 years old and are "like family," Commerford said.

The elephants, like all the animals owned by the company, are properly cared for, she said.