Nonhuman Rights Project seeks appeal in Bronx Zoo elephant rights case

On Jan. 27, the NhRP filed a motion for permission to appeal with the New York Court of Appeals, the highest court of appeals in the state.
Photo courtesy of Gigi Glendinning

The battle for Happy the Elephant, of the Bronx Zoo, began in 2018 and the NonHuman Rights Project is not ready to end its fight.

In December, 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.

However, on Jan. 27, NhRP filed a motion for permission to appeal with the New York Court of Appeals, the highest court of appeals in the state.

Approval from at least two of the seven New York Court of Appeals judges is needed for the motion to be granted.

“We welcome this opportunity to present our arguments to the Court as to why they should hear our appeal,” said Nonhuman Rights Project Founder and President Steven Wise. “The issues in Happy’s case are novel and deeply important at the local, state, national, and international levels, and the first department committed numerous, serious legal errors in its decision to dismiss.”

The most recent decision in this case marked the 24th judge in New York State alone to rule against NhRP as it attempts to advance its agenda to extend human protections to animals.

This is the fifth case NhRP has lost seeking legal personhood for animals.

All four Departments of the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division have ruled against NhRP.

“The Bronx Zoo takes excellent care of Happy and will continue to do so, along with all animals here at the zoo,” said a spokesman for the Bronx Zoo. “Her well-being is assured by our dedicated staff and all the expertise they bring in providing excellent care for her for more than 40 years. NhRP and the experts they recruited for their petition, none of whom ever had any direct contact with or knowledge of Happy, have exploited Happy and the name of the Bronx Zoo to further their misguided philosophical agenda and fund-raise for their cause. NhRP has no real regard for Happy as an individual. Though NhRP is on record in court documents stating they are not questioning Happy’s welfare, they consistently raise concerns about her welfare as a fundraising tool.

“From the beginning, the information perpetuated by NhRP about Happy has been inaccurate, misleading or simply false, and they knew it. In fact, Happy is not kept in isolation – she has contact with another elephant; Happy is not languishing; Happy is not kept indoors for half the year; Happy is well cared for by professionals with decades of experience.”

The 50-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.

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 and currently resides with Patty the elephant with a barrier between them.

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

Additionally, in July 2020 the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee pointed out that it is not affiliated with the Nonhuman Rights Project’s “Free Happy” movement and has requested that it not be referenced in the Project’s ongoing campaign.

A decision is expected within six to eight weeks.