An elephant named Happy has caused quite the stir online as an animal rights group called the Nonhuman Rights Project tried to get him freed from his enclosure at the Bronx Zoo.
In an Instagram post, the group alleged that “During the past 45 years she has been confined to a one-acre lot in New York City, a wholly unnatural and inappropriate environment for an elephant. For the past 16 years, she has been alone, without the necessary companionship of other elephants.”
They called for her to be freed from the zoo and sent to live at an elephant sanctuary. However, a court ruled in favor of the zoo on Tuesday morning and ruled that Happy is fine where she is.
Happy The Elephant To Stay At Bronx Zoo, Court Rules
As reported by BBC News, a New York court ruled that the 51-year-old elephant is not legally a person under United States law. The state’s highest court voted 5-2 to reject the non-profit groups’ argument that Happy was being “illegally” detained by the zoo against her will.
Happy was born in the wild in Thailand in the 1970s. She was brought to the U.S. when she was only a year old and has lived at the zoo since 1977. She is one of two remaining elephants at the zoo, which has expressed intentions to end its captive elephant program in the future.
The main dispute of the court focused on the legal principle of habeas corpus, which protects against illegal detention. The animal rights group sought to extend the right of habeas corpus to “emotionally complex and intelligent animals,” such as elephants.
Chief Judge Janet DiFiore wrote a statement on behalf of the majority, writing, “While no one disputes the impressive capabilities of elephants, we reject petitioner’s arguments that it is entitled to seek the remedy of habeas corpus on Happy’s behalf.”
DiFiore added, “Habeas corpus is a procedural vehicle intended to secure the liberty rights of human beings who are unlawfully restrained, not nonhuman animals.”
This Is Not The First Time That Happy Has Been The Subject Of Debate
Tuesday’s decision backs the ruling that had been made in lower courts, which have repeatedly took the side of the Bronx Zoo and ruled that Happy the elephant is allowed to stay at the zoo in her one-acre enclosure.
The Wildlife Conservation Society, which operates the zoo, has rejected many of the allegations the Nonhuman Rights Project has levied against them in the past, saying that Happy and her elephant companions are well-cared for.
Although a majority of the judges did agree with the lower court’s previous findings, there were two judges that disagreed. In her dissent, Judge Jenny Rivera called Happy’s captivity “inherently unjust and inhumane. It is an affront to a civilized society, and every day she remains a captive—a spectacle for humans—we, too, are diminished.”
The Nonhuman Rights Project called the dissenting statement “powerful” and said that they plan to use them in another elephant rights case currently underway in California.
Nonhuman Rights Project Is Not Giving Up Hope On Freeing Happy Just Yet
In a lengthy statement on Instagram, the group wrote, “this is not just a loss for Happy, whose freedom was at stake in this case and who remains imprisoned in a Bronx Zoo exhibit. It’s also 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 added, “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.”
It seems that they have not given up hope that they will inevitably free Happy from captivity, concluding their statement by saying, “That’s why we’ll continue our grassroots campaign for her release at the same time as we consider our legal options and next steps.”