Court rules against animal rights group in Happy the elephant case

Happy and Patty Bronx Zoo 2020
Bronx Zoo elephants Happy and Patti
Courtesy of the Bronx Zoo

In a unanimous decision, the courts ruled against the NonHuman Rights Project’s (NhRP)’s argument that Happy the Elephant be declared a “person,” entitled to protection under the writ of habeas corpus.

The five judges of the Appellate Division of the First Judicial Department of the State Supreme Court did not have a dissenting opinion and called NhRP’s arguments “erroneous.”

To date, 29 judges in New York have ruled against NhRP in this and similar petitions. Just yesterday, NhRP announced its abandonment of a similar unsuccessful case in Connecticut.

The NhRP began fighting for Happy back in September 2019 and continued last month when the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) and attorneys for the Wildlife Conservation Society presented oral arguments to three appellate judges.

“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,” a spokesman for the Bronx Zoo said. “The NhRP has argued nonsensically that Happy should be deemed a person and “freed” to an elephant sanctuary, while also stating in court proceedings it was not challenging Happy’s welfare at the zoo. Of greater concern is that what NhRP says in the courts is very different from what it says on its social channels to incite the public with false statements about Happy’s situation and care.”

NhRP was not pleased with the decision.

“The court ignored New York Courts of Appeals Justice Eugene M. Fahey’s 2018 criticism of this decision in which he also wrote that the question of nonhuman animals’ rightlessness is “a deep dilemma of ethics and policy that demands our attention,” a spokesman said. “The issue whether a nonhuman animal has a fundamental right to liberty protected by the writ of habeas corpus is profound and far-reaching. It speaks to our relationship with all the life around us. Ultimately, we will not be able to ignore it.”

They will now ask New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, to hear thier arguments.

In February a judge ruled that Happy was not a person nor is she imprisoned at the Bronx Zoo, which led to the Nov. 19 appeal. In November, the exhibit closed for the winter, which left Happy confined to an industrial cement structure lined with windowless, barred cages. According to the zoo, the “elephant barn” will reopen in May 2021.

The 49-year-old elephant currently resides on an acre of land at the zoo, but if relocated to the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, she would have access to 2,600 acres of land along with 10 to 15 other elephants.

Whilw NhRP believes Happy is isolated and should be transferred to a sanctuary in Tennessee, the Zoo disagrees.

“Information perpetuated by NhRP over the past two years of this lawsuit was inaccurate, misleading or blatantly untrue,” the zoo spokesman said. “Despite what NhRP says, Happy is not kept in isolation; Happy is not languishing; Happy is not kept indoors for half the year.”

Happy was born in Malaysia in 1971 and spent a few years in California before being relocated to the Bronx Zoo in 1977. She has lived with three other elephants over the course of her time at the zoo but has lived alone for the past 17 years.