Is Happy the elephant a person? New York court debates if pachyderm has human rights

‘She has an interest in exercising her choices and deciding who she wants to be with, and where to go, and what to do, and what to eat’

Sravasti Dasgupta
Thursday 19 May 2022 08:09
Comments

(Related) How Moving an Elephant Is One of the Toughest Things To Do For Zookeepers

An organisation that claims to be the only one to champion the civil rights of animals in the US wants to know whether an elephant at a New York zoo can be deemed an autonomous “person” and decide if it can be moved away from the “one-acre prison”.

New York’s highest court heard arguments to consider whether Happy, an elephant at the Bronx Zoo, should be released through a habeas corpus proceeding.

A habeas corpus proceeding challenges illegal confinement by a person or someone on their behalf.

Advocates at the Nonhuman Rights Project (NRP), who are challenging Happy’s confinement in the zoo, said the elephant is an autonomous “person” and should be moved from the “one-acre prison” at the zoo to a more spacious sanctuary.

Happy has lived at the zoo for 45 years.

“She has an interest in exercising her choices and deciding who she wants to be with, and where to go, and what to do, and what to eat,” the group’s attorney Monica Miller told The Associated Press ahead of the oral arguments.

“And the zoo is prohibiting her from making any of those choices herself.”

NRP is making the claims on the basis that Happy had become the first elephant to pass a self-awareness indicator test, something the group had pointed out in 2005.

The elephant had repeatedly touched a white “X” on her forehead as she looked into a large mirror, the group said.

Zoo operators have opposed moving Happy as they claimed such a ruling could make way for more such legal actions on behalf of animals.

“If there’s going to entire be a rewrite and a granting to animals of rights that they never had before, shouldn’t that be done by the legislature?” Kenneth Manning, an attorney for zoo operator Wildlife Conservation Society, asked the judges.

The zoo, in a prepared statement to the court, accused NRP of having a “coordinated agenda”.

“The blatant exploitation of Happy the elephant by NRP to advance their coordinated agenda shows no concern for the individual animal and reveals the fact they are willing to sacrifice Happy’s health and psychological well-being to set precedent,” it said.

NRP has also argued that if the court recognises Happy’s right to that liberty under habeas corpus, she will be a “person” for that purpose and must then be released.

Judge Jenny Rivera asked the group’s attorney about the implications of NRP’s position on human-animal relationships.

“So does that mean that I couldn’t keep a dog?” she asked. “I mean, dogs can memorise words.”

Ms Miller replied saying there was more evidence for the cognitive abilities of elephants than there was for dogs.

The 51-year-old Asian elephant, who has been at the zoo since 1977, is kept apart from other elephants in a one-acre (0.4-hectare) enclosure at the zoo since around 2006, showed court records.

Zoo authorities said Happy’s conditions at the zoo are in compliance with law.

“There’s got to be an illegal detainment in order for the remedy to even apply at all,” Mr Manning said, referring to habeas corpus.

“Here there’s been no illegal detainment.”

Efforts in the past to grant legal personhood for animals, including chimpanzees, have been unsuccessful, reported Reuters.

The court is expected to rule in the case in the coming months.

Additional reporting by agencies

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in