Happy the Elephant Is Not a Person, Court Rules

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York’s top court on Tuesday rejected an effort to free Happy the elephant from the Bronx Zoo, ruling in a closely watched case that she does not meet the definition of a “person” who is being illegally confined.

Happy won’t be freed through a habeas Corpus proceeding. This is a process that allows people to contest illegal confinement.

The majority decision written by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said that “while no one disputes that elephants are intelligent beings deserving of proper care and compassion,” a writ of habeas corpus is intended to protect the liberty of human beings and does not apply to a nonhuman animal like Happy.

It warned its supporters that the victory of advocates from the Nonhuman Rights Project could allow for more legal actions to protect animals.

The court’s majority echoed that point.

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“A determination that Happy, an elephant, may invoke habeas corpus to challenge her confinement at the Bronx Zoo — a confinement both authorized and, by all indications, compliant with state and federal statutory law and regulations — would have an enormous destabilizing impact on modern society,” read the majority decision. “It is not this Court’s role to make such a determination.”

The Bronx Zoo argued Happy is neither illegally imprisoned nor a person, but a well-cared-for elephant “respected as the magnificent creature she is.”

The advocates at the Nonhuman Rights Project argued that Happy is an autonomous, cognitively complex elephant worthy of the right reserved in law for “a person.”

Rowan Wilson, Jenny Rivera and Jenny Rivera wrote sharply-worded dissents stating that Happy’s status as an animal doesn’t prevent her legal rights. Rivera wrote that Happy is being held in “an environment that is unnatural to her and that does not allow her to live her life.”

“Her captivity is 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,” Rivera wrote.

Happy, who was born in Asia’s wild in the 1970s and then brought to America as a one-year-old. Happy was born in the Bronx Zoo with Grumpy (an elephant friend) in 1977. Grumpy died in 2002 after a fight with two elephants.

The ruling from New York’s highest court cannot be appealed. In similar cases, the Nonhuman Rights Project failed to win. This includes one involving Tommy, a chimpanzee from upstate New York.

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