A legal battle over whether an elephant has legal rights and if it should stay in the Bronx Zoo or be relocated to an elephant sanctuary concluded its arguments two weeks ago.
On Monday, January 6, the non-profit group Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) argued for a third time in the Bronx Supreme Court to free Happy the elephant from solitary confinement in the Bronx Zoo.
“The argument that the NhRP makes is that Happy is a person,” said NhRP president Steven Wise.
In total, they stated their case for 13 hours, which began in September. Wise, who has worked for decades as an animal protection attorney, explained that his organization and experts argued that Happy has rights and should live with other elephants.
Happy resides on an acre of land, but if relocated to the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee would have 2,600 acres and be with 10 to 15 elephants.
“Elephants are incredibly social,” he said. “It’s not hard to imagine that her life would change.”
Happy was born in Malaysia in 1971 and spent a few years in California before being relocated to the Bronx in 1977.
In her 40 plus years at the zoo, she has lived with three other elephants, but for the past 17 years has been alone.
Happy’s proof of autonomy was evident in 2005, when she became the first elephant to ‘pass’ the mirror self-recognition test, considered to be an indicator of self-awareness. The mirror test is a behavioral technique developed in 1970 by psychologist Gordon Gallup Jr. as an attempt to determine whether an animal possesses the ability of visual self-recognition
Wise said he hopes to have a resolution in the next few months.
“We think our arguments are excellent,” he remarked. “Bronx Zoo experts didn’t say it was wrong to move Happy.”
However, the Bronx Zoo argues against NhRP’s assertion that Happy should be moved.
The zoo is confident the court will rule against NhRP based on existing controlling precedent set by all four departments of the appellate division of the New York State court system.
Twenty-three judges, in New York have already ruled against NhRP in similar petitions.
“NhRP attorneys say it is because the judges don’t understand the law,” a statement by the Zoo said. “We contend the judges do understand the law and understand it very well. New York State courts have consistently ruled against NhRP and nothing was argued in court today or at any point during these proceedings to change this precedent.”
The zoo further contends that they have taken care of Happy for years and always meet her needs.
“Information being perpetuated by NhRP is inaccurate, misleading or simply untrue and they know it,” the statement said. “They deliberately misstate the truth: Happy is not kept in isolation; Happy is not languishing; Happy is not kept indoors for half the year; Happy is well cared for by professionals with decades of experience; and NhRP is not acting in the interest of the animal.”