An appeals court dismissed a request from an animal rights group. The group wanted human-like rights granted to an elephant. Instead, judges upheld a ruling that emphasizes the differences between humans and animals.
“Happy” the elephant was captured in Thailand in the 1970s. Happy’s owners brought six other elephants to the United States at the same time. They named the pachyderms after the seven dwarves of Snow White fame. Grumpy lived in the same zoo with Happy until 2002.
Folks at the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) claim Happy has been “unlawfully imprisoned” at the Bronx Zoo for more than 40 years.
Members of NhRP hoped to obtain Happy’s freedom under a legal concept called a “writ of habeas corpus.” A writ helps decide whether jailing or detaining a person is lawful.
There’s one obvious problem: An elephant isn’t a person.
NhRP members claim Happy is kept separate from other elephants at the zoo. Group members want Happy to be released from a one-acre exhibit to a 2,300-acre sanctuary in Tennessee for the winter. There she could be around other elephants and have more freedom of movement.
Some of the NhRP group’s concerns are valid. Humans should never abuse one of God’s creatures. The righteous show compassion even to animals. (Proverbs 12:10)
The zoo insists Happy has had opportunities for contact with other elephants and that zoo staff regularly assesses her condition to make sure she is thriving.
Early last year, Bronx Supreme Court Justice Alison Tuitt found that while Happy is “an intelligent, autonomous being who should be treated with respect and dignity and who may be entitled to liberty . . . Happy is not a ‘person’ and not being illegally imprisoned.”
In December, an appeals court agreed. Five judges held that the 49-year-old elephant isn’t a human. Therefore, it can’t be regarded an illegally imprisoned person—or be sprung from imprisonment.
Further, the judges say that claiming human rights for animals “would lead to a labyrinth [a tangled maze] of questions that common-law processes are ill-equipped to answer.”
The Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs the zoo, calls it a victory for “common sense.”
“All decisions regarding the health and welfare of the animals at the Bronx Zoo should and will be made by the zoo’s animal experts who know them best,” the society says.
The NhRP promises to continue its legal battle for Happy. It will ask New York’s highest court to re-hear arguments about the elephant. In the meantime, Happy will continue delighting visitors to the Bronx Zoo.