Plants and Animals

Sad Day for Happy the Elephant as Court Rules She’s Not a Legal Person

Sad Day for Happy the Elephant as Court Rules She’s Not a Legal Person

Happy is a 51-year-old Asian elephant that was abducted and transported to the United States when she was 1 year old after being born in the wild in Asia. She’s been a member of the Bronx Zoo since 1977, and she presently has her own one-acre display. Many individuals don’t think Happy belongs at the zoo. In fact, 1.4 million individuals from 90 different countries have signed a petition to get her solitary detention ended and her transfer to an elephant sanctuary. Elephants can graze freely with other elephants in a more natural setting in these sanctuaries.

Elephants, like humans, have been known to suffer emotional and physical difficulties as a result of living in cramped, secluded quarters. In addition, there has been a big movement utilizing the hashtag #FreeHappy. It is legal to confine an elephant in a tiny display under current animal protection rules. Happy, on the other hand, is a little different: in 2005, investigations and studies discovered that Happy can display self-awareness using the mirror test. While looking into a huge mirror, she was asked to repeatedly tap the white “X” on her forehead.

This was part of the evidence presented to the courts by the Nonhuman Rights Project in order to get a habeas corpus hearing to evaluate the legality of her detention. People can use their habeas corpus rights to challenge any illegal detention. In May, project attorney Monica Miller told the Associated Press that “she has an interest in exercising her options and picking who she wants to be with, where she wants to go, what she wants to do, and what she wants to eat.” “The zoo forbids her from making any of those decisions on her own.”

The Bronx Zoo disagrees with the Nonhuman Rights Project, claiming that she is a well-loved and respected elephant who is not being held illegally or as a person. They also say that the Nonhuman Rights Project is “using Happy in the same way they’ve used animals in previous instances in their drive to overturn centuries of habeas corpus law and impose their own worldview that animals shouldn’t be in zoos.” This legal struggle came to a close this week. The New York Court of Appeals, in a 5-2 judgment, dismissed the complaint, ruling that she is not a “person” subjected to unlawful detention.

“No one disputes that elephants are intelligent beings who deserve proper care and compassion,” the court said, but “nothing in our precedent, or, indeed, that of any other state or federal court, provides support for the notion that the writ of habeas corpus is or should be applicable to nonhuman animals.” Naturally, the Nonhuman Right Project is dissatisfied. 

“This is a loss for everyone who cares about upholding and strengthening our most cherished values and principles of justice – autonomy, liberty, equality, and fairness – and ensuring our legal system is free of arbitrary reasoning and that no one is denied basic rights simply because of who they are,” they said in a statement. The verdict has been met with significant criticism, with Judge Jenny Rivera stating, “A gilded cage is still a cage.” Happy is a dignified creature, yet her incarceration is everything but dignified.”