The court in Albany has to decide whether elephants have human rights and are unlawfully imprisoned. On Wednesday, New York Court of Appeals heard both sides of the argument from the Bronx Zoo and Nonhuman Rights Project. They have the hard decision to rule out whether or not habeas corpus applies to elephants such as Happy.
Happy the elephant has been living in the Bronx Zoo since 1977. She was born in 1971 in Thailand and brought over to a zoo in California. The Lion Country Safari Inc in Laguna Hills, California, had seven elephants. They named them after Snow White’s seven dwarves. Once one of the elephants died, Sleepy, they relocated the other six. Some went to circuses while others went to zoos. Happy and Grumpy went to the Bronx Zoo.
In 2002, Happy’s companion, Grumpy, was attacked by two other elephants, Patty and Maxine. The zoo introduced another Asian elephant, Sammie, and made her Happy’s companion. Sadly, in 2005, Sammie died from kidney failure. In 2018, Maxine died, leaving Happy and Patty the only two elephants in the zoo. Since 2018, the Nonhuman Rights Project has pushed to have the elephants removed from the zoo and placed in a sanctuary.
Prison or Sanctuary?
Elephants in the wild walk for miles, foraging with the herd. The females form bonds and friendships. They need interactions with other elephants, and they need space to roam. Happy has a little over an acre and sleeps in a cage twice her length. Is that enough? According to Nonhuman Rights Project, it’s not, and this is a prison. This prison will give her arthritis, depression, and bone infection. Since Happy was able to recognize herself in the mirror test, this makes her self-aware, like humans are.
The Bronx Zoo argues that Happy has another elephant mate and that she is content. The vets and staff take good care of her and provide her with kindness and respect. They also think that the Nonhuman Rights Project imposes their views and tries to end large animals from living in zoos. The biggest argument they have is that if elephants have human rights, it can cause other cases and legal chaos. The zoo wrote, “Changing this most fundamental of legal concepts has implications not just for zoos, but for pet owners, farmers, academic and hospital-based researchers and, most critically, every human who might seek or need access to the judicial system.”
What do you think will be the court’s decision? Will anything change for Happy the elephant? Shouldn’t elephants have human rights and be free in a sanctuary in the wild? They eat, walk, form friendships, have families, and grieve loss as we do. An acre of land to circle in and a cage is no life for a beautiful, majestic animal like elephants.
On Tuesday, The Court of Appeals ruled that Happy the elephant does not have human rights. The Asian elephant will remain in the Bronx zoo and will not be moved to a sanctuary. The court 5-to-2 vote rejected that the highly intelligent elephant was illegally detained. This decision ultimately came down to habeas corpus and whether it applies to intelligent animals. In this case, the court did not think human rights applied to the elephant.