Bronx Zoo elephant named Happy not a person, court rules

ALBANY, NY – Happy the elephant may be smart and deserving of compassion, but she cannot be considered someone unlawfully confined to the Bronx Zoo, New York’s highest court ruled on Tuesday.

The 5-2 decision by the state Court of Appeals comes in a closely watched case that has tested the limits of the application of human rights to animals.

The zoo and its supporters have warned that a victory for Nonhuman Rights Project advocates could open the door to more legal action on behalf of animals, including pets, farm animals and other species in zoos.

The majority of the court echoed this point.

The decision written by Chief Justice Janet DiFiore said that “although no one disputes that elephants are intelligent beings deserving of proper care and compassion”, a writ of habeas corpus is intended to protect the freedom of beings humans and does not apply to a non-human animal. like Happy.

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The ruling upholds a lower court ruling and means Happy will not be released to a more spacious sanctuary through habeas corpus proceedings, which is a way for people to challenge the unlawful confinement.

Extending this right to Happy to challenge his confinement in a zoo “would have a huge destabilizing impact on modern society”. And granting legal personality in a case like this would affect how humans interact with animals, the majority ruled.

“Indeed, taken to its logical conclusion, such a determination would call into question the very premises that underlie pet ownership, the use of service animals, and the enlistment of animals in other forms of work,” the decision read.

Bronx Zoo operators argued that Happy was neither illegally imprisoned nor a person, but a well-groomed elephant “respected like the magnificent creature that she is”.

Defenders of the Nonhuman Rights Project have argued that Happy is an autonomous, cognitively complex elephant, worthy of the legal right of “a person”.

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Two judges, Rowan Wilson and Jenny Rivera, wrote separate and specific dissents, saying that the fact that Happy is an animal does not preclude him from having legal rights. Rivera wrote that Happy is being held in “an environment that is unnatural to her and does not allow her to live her life.”

“His captivity is inherently unjust and inhumane. It is an affront to a civilized society, and every day it remains captive – a spectacle for humans – we too are diminished,” Rivera wrote.

The decision of New York’s highest court is final. The Non-Human Rights Project has failed to prevail in similar cases, including those involving an upstate New York chimpanzee named Tommy.

Steven Wise, the group’s founder, said he was pleased that he was able to convince some judges. He noted that the group has a similar case underway in California and more are planned in other states and countries.

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“We will take a very close look at why we lost and we will try to ensure that it does not happen again if possible,” he said.

Happy was born in the wild in Asia in the early 1970s, captured and brought to the United States when he was one year old. Happy arrived at the Bronx Zoo in 1977 with fellow elephant Grumpy, who was fatally injured in a 2002 confrontation with two other elephants.

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