The fight to determine if Happy the elephant will remain at the Bronx Zoo or be relocated to an elephant conservatory ended last week.
On Wednesday, February 19, a judge ruled in favor of the Bronx Zoo and declared that Happy is not a person nor is she imprisoned at the zoo.
“We are pleased with the Bronx County Supreme Court’s decision today to dismiss the Nonhuman Rights Project’s petition,” said Jim Breheny, director of the Bronx Zoo and executive vice president of zoos and aquarium at the Wildlife Conservation Society. “The court rejected NhRP’s ill-conceived attempt to have an elephant at the Bronx Zoo, Happy, declared a ‘person,’ entitled to protection under the writ of habeas corpus. In doing so, the court supported the Bronx Zoo’s legal position and we believe this decision is in Happy’s best interests.”
The NhRP, a national animal rights group, began fighting for Happy in September and spent a total of 13 hours arguing her case.
Happy’s lead attorney and president of NhRP, Steven Wise told the Bronx Times they are pleased with the judge’s decision. While she did not rule in their favor, it is a step in the right direction, he stressed.
“While Justice Tuitt ‘regretfully’ denied the habeas corpus relief the NhRP had demanded because she felt bound by prior appellate court decisions in the NhRP’s chimpanzee rights cases, “she essentially vindicated the legal arguments and factual claims about the nature of nonhuman animals such as Happy that the NhRP has been making during the first six years of our rights litigation,” Wise said.
The NhRP has already begun working on its appeal.
“While we lament Happy’s continued imprisonment, we thank Justice Tuitt for breaking ground on the long road to securing liberty and justice for Happy and other autonomous nonhuman animals,” said the NhRP’s executive director Kevin Schneider. “Happy’s freedom matters as much to her as ours does to us, and we won’t stop fighting in and out of court until she has it.”
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 other elephants.
“Elephants are incredibly social,” Wise 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.