Lawyers Keep Fighting For Happy The Elephant After Legal Defeat Sees Her Remain At Bronx Zoo

Happy the elephant is not worthy of human rights, New York's top court rules


3 Minutes Read

Happy the Elephant at Bronx Zoo The NRP has said it will keep fighting for Happy - Media Credit: Gigi Glendinning | NRP

The case to release Happy, an elephant currently living at New York’s Bronx Zoo, has been unsuccessful.

The Nonhuman Rights Project (NRP) launched a habeas corpus-based bid to free Happy, grant her a right to “bodily liberty,” and move her to a larger sanctuary.

The ruling of five out of seven judges presiding over the case is that habeas corpus (a recourse in law that determines unlawful detention) does not apply to animals. Not even those that have passed a self-awareness test, as Happy the elephant has. Happy’s ruling is not open to appeal.

The Bronx Zoo celebrated the verdict and praised the judges for avoiding setting a “dangerous precedent.”

The zoo said Happy’s release would set in motion an endless slew of petitions for companion, service, and other animals. The ruling transcript says that it “would have an enormous destabilizing impact on modern society.”

The court acknowledged Happy as an intelligent and sentient creature deserving of proper care. The Bronx Zoo says that she is treated like the “magnificent creature she is.”

Happy the elephant’s plight recognized by two judges

Two judges supported Happy’s right to release, preventing the result from being a landslide defeat for the NRP. Jenny Rivera and Rowan Wilson both identified Happy’s right to live in a way that is more natural to her.

Rivera acknowledged that Happy is a captive animal. She is in “an environment that is unnatural to her and that does not allow her to live her life. Her captivity is inherently unjust and inhumane. It is an affront to a civilized society.”

According to the NRP, the support of Rivera and Wilson is a “tremendous victory” in the struggle for nonhuman animal rights. Its statement on the ruling reads: “We lament that the Court chose not to do its clear common law duty in this case by bringing Happy’s legal status into the 21st century.”

“In this respect, the majority of the Court appears to be out of touch with the times and has demonstrated a deep misunderstanding of what Happy’s case is about.”

The NRP added that it will continue to campaign for Happy’s release.

Ricky Gervais weighs in on captive elephant rights

Comedian, actor, and activist Ricky Gervais has publicly called for the release of all elephants currently held in zoos. His plea comes after a report documented the devastating health impact of enforced captivity on the animals. 

“Elephants are sensitive, emotional, and highly intelligent beings — seeing them suffer mentally and physically behind bars is heartbreaking,” Gervais said.

In Defense of Animals released its annual 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in North America list. This year, for the 10th time, it includes the Bronx Zoo. The list links to new research that uncovered a link between captivity and brain damage in elephants. In Defense of Animals also maintains that Happy is lonely, and should at least be kept with other animals of her own kind.

Musician and animal rights activist Moby joins Gervais in campaigning for the release of all elephants. “I always felt bad seeing sad animals in zoos. But I had no idea that zoos cause brain damage to elephants. The list of 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants is a shocking alarm call exposing how elephants are suffering and dying,” he said.

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