A case brought by animal activists that argues an elephant is being “imprisoned” by a New York zoo is advancing to New York’s highest court.
The elephant, named Happy, is a “cognitively complex nonhuman animal” that should be freed from the Bronx Zoo and transferred to a sanctuary, according to The Nonhuman Rights Project.
More than two dozen New York judges have previously ruled against those fighting for Happy and similar cases, the Bronx Zoo said in December after the case was dismissed by a lower court. But The Nonhuman Rights Project is now celebrating the New York Court of Appeals’ decision to hear the case.
“This marks the first time in history that the highest court of any English-speaking jurisdiction will hear a habeas corpus case brought on behalf of someone other than a human being,” the Nonhuman Rights Project said in a statement. The group called it a “landmark elephant rights case.”
Habeas corpus means “you shall have the body” and often relates to the justification of a citizen’s detention.
Judge Eugene M. Fahey, associate judge of New York’s Court of Appeals, has previously written on the issue.
“Can a non-human animal be entitled to release from confinement through the writ of habeas corpus?” Fahey wondered in a 2018 opinion noted by legal observers. “The question will have to be addressed eventually.”
Happy has lived mostly alone at the Bronx Zoo for years after her companion, an elephant named Grumpy, was fatally injured in an incident with other elephants in 2002, The Nonhuman Rights Project says.
The group says Happy is the first elephant to pass a mirror self-recognition test, a sign of self-awareness.
The Bronx Zoo has criticized the legal effort, saying it is a publicity and fundraising stunt.
“In essence, the lawsuit was never about what was best for Happy … The NhRP has argued nonsensically that Happy should be deemed a person and ‘freed’ to an elephant sanctuary while also stating in court proceedings it was not challenging Happy’s welfare at the zoo,” the zoo said in a December statement.
The statement accuses the group of peddling misinformation to advance the case: “Happy is not kept in isolation; Happy is not languishing; Happy is not kept indoors for half the year.”
The legal arguments presented by the group are “ludicrous,” said Bronx Zoo Director Jim Breheny in 2018.
Contributing: The Associated Press.