Happy the elephant

Happy the elephant is denied personhood, to stay at Bronx Zoo

Photo via Unsplash

NEW YORK, June 14 (Reuters) - Happy the elephant will stay at the Bronx Zoo after New York state's highest court on Tuesday ruled against an animal rights group that said she deserved some of the same rights as humans and should be freed.

By Luc Cohen

In a 5-2 decision, the Albany-based Court of Appeals said the writ of habeas corpus, which allows people to be released from illegal custody, did not apply to Happy despite claims that the 51-year-old elephant shared many of the same cognitive abilities as humans. Read full story

“While no one disputes that elephants are intelligent beings deserving of proper care and compassion,” Chief Judge Janet DiFiore wrote, “Happy, as a nonhuman animal, does not have a legally cognizable right to be at liberty under New York law.”

DiFiore also said granting freedom to Happy would have “an enormous destabilizing impact on modern society” and could generate a “flood” of petitions to free animals, perhaps including pets and service animals.

She said it should be up to the legislature to decide whether to grant nonhuman animals the same legal rights as people.

Tuesday’s decision is a defeat for the Nonhuman Rights Project, which began asking New York courts four years ago to release Happy to one of two U.S. elephant sanctuaries.

The Florida-based group had objected to what it considered Happy’s imprisonment in a one-acre (0.4 hectare) enclosure at the zoo, segregated from other elephants.

The group said it would continue pushing for her release.

“This is not just a loss for Happy, whose freedom was at stake in this case,” the group said in a statement. “It’s also a loss for everyone who cares about upholding and strengthening our most cherished values and principles of justice.”

A spokesperson for the Bronx Zoo did not respond to requests for comment.

Two lower courts had previously sided with the zoo, which maintains that Happy is well cared for.

In spirited opinions, the dissenting judges empathized with Happy.

“When the majority answers, ‘No, animals cannot have rights,’ I worry for that animal, but I worry even more greatly about how that answer denies and denigrates the human capacity for understanding, empathy and compassion,” Judge Rowan Wilson wrote.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Mark Porter)


Comments - Please in order to comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.7% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.3% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.3% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country.

Be part of that 0.3%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

MavericKids vol 3

How can a child learn to read if they don't have a book?

81% of South African children aged 10 can't read for meaning. You can help by pre-ordering a copy of MavericKids.

For every copy sold we will donate a copy to Gift of The Givers for children in need of reading support.