Happy the Elephant to become the first non-human to make it all the way to state’s top court

Sandra Salathe
Friday 07 May 2021 08:27
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(Gigi Glendinning/Nonhuman Rights Project/Handout via REUTERS)

Happy the elephant has called the Bronx Zoo home for over four decades. But It looks like Happy might have her chance at freedom soon.

On Tuesday, New York’s top court said it would hear a case introduced by animal welfare activists who claim Happy has been “imprisoned at the Bronx Zoo for over four decades.”

“This marks the first time in history that the highest court of any English-speaking jurisdiction will hear a habeas corpus case brought on behalf of someone other than a human being,” the Nonhuman Rights Project said.

The Nonhuman Rights Project took Happy on as a client 2018, an are “seeking recognition of her fundamental right to bodily liberty.” The organization says Happy should be granted a writ of habeas corpus and transferred to an elephant sanctuary.

For those who aren’t familiar with law jargon, habeas corpus is a term that often relates to cases of unlawful imprisonment, typically involving a human person. Many would argue that animals are human beings, and should be treated as such, which we wholeheartedly support.

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Along with another elephant, Grumpy, Happy (a female Asian elephant) was originally brought to the zoo in the 1970s, where she resided with Grumpy for 25 years, according to The New York Times. After Grumpy passed in 2002, Happy mostly resided in solitude.

However, Happy became the first elephant to demonstrate self-recognition, after being able to recognize herself in a mirror during a study in 2006, NPR reported. After more than two dozen New York judges in lower courts dismissed Happy’s case, New York State Court of Appeals agreed to give it a shot.

Unfortunately, an Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court rejected Happy’s case by a unanimous decision in December, rejecting to identify her as a “person.”

“A judicial determination that species other than homo sapiens are ‘persons’ for some juridical purposes, and therefore have certain rights, would lead to a labyrinth of questions that common-law processes are ill-equipped to answer,” the opinion said, adding the decision is “better suited to the legislative process.”

The Nonhuman Rights Project argues that there’s no credible reason the Bronx Zoo can’t release Happy to a sanctuary.

“We are aware that the Director of the Bronx Zoo, Jim Breheny, recently emailed NhRP supporters to try to justify the zoo’s decision to continue to imprison Happy and deprive her of necessary companionship with other elephants,” the organization said in a statement on their website. “Unsurprisingly, his email omitted critical details about the zoo’s imprisonment of Happy that tell a completely different story about who Happy is, how imprisonment in a zoo is harming her, and who she can be.”

The Bronx Zoo has since accused the Nonhuman Rights Project of “erroneous arguments,” spreading false information, and exploiting Happy for their activism. They claim Happy is “not kept in isolation” and “ not kept indoors for half the year.”

“In essence, the lawsuit was never about what was best for Happy but has been a vehicle used by NhRP to generate funds to advance its philosophical cause,” the Bronx Zoo stated.

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