A New York court is hearing a case where an elephant has been asked to be considered a legal person. The lawsuit was filed by the animal rights organization Nonhuman Rights Project, which said Happy, a 51-year-old Asian elephant, had been illegally detained at the Bronx Zoo and should be sent to an elephant sanctuary. The Washington Post.
The animal rights group has filed a habeas corpus petition, which is usually used to determine whether a person’s detention is legal.
The decision depends on whether the Court of Appeal, the highest court in New York, treats Happy as an individual.
“The elephant is being held captive against his will,” said Steven Wise, a lawyer representing Happy. The Wall Street Journal. “He has been held captive for more than 40 years.”
The Inhuman Rights Project states that Happy is “an autonomous and cognitively complex animal that has the same right to protection against unlawful imprisonment.”
But the zoo argues that Happy is taken care of and that it is not illegal to detain her.
Happy’s self-appointed human rights lawyer, however, claims that Happy is so intelligent that he has the right to physical freedom. They cited a mirror self-recognition test that Happy passed in 2005, indicating that she was aware of herself.
They further claim that the elephant, in fact, is not happy in captivity and should be removed from the zoo, where Happy has been living since 1977, in an elephant sanctuary where he will have more space and be able to interact with other elephants.
Happy Bronx spent 16 years in isolation at the zoo: 2 times more than Kavanagh, the “lonely elephant in the world” before a Pakistani judge released him from the zoo into a sanctuary. In his decision, he called Happy a prisoner. #Freehappyhttps://t.co/YX9Mv22CHSpic.twitter.com/eHXZ5K0z4r
– Inhuman Rights (onNonhumanRights) May 17, 2022
Happy is not the only animal fighting for their legal rights. The Inhuman Rights Project represents whales, chimpanzees and dolphins who argue that legal entities have complex cognitive abilities and autonomy to qualify.
Since Happy’s lawsuit began in 2018, the organization has lost in several lower-level courts. An online petition has also been launched on change.org to urge Bronx Zoo director James J. Breheny to end Happy’s solitary confinement.
Happy Bronx will continue to live in the zoo until the appellate court rules in the case.