It’s a sad day to be Happy.
New York’s top court ruled Tuesday that an elephant at the Bronx Zoo named Happy is “not a person” and therefore lacks the human right to be released from custody at the Bronx Zoo.
The judges at the state Court of Appeals ruled five against two in favor of continued captivity for Happy.
Happy, the court wrote, is “a nonhuman animal who is not a ‘person’ subjected to illegal detention.”
“No one disputes that elephants are intelligent beings deserving of proper care and compassion,” the court added.”
The ruling upheld two lower court decisions from 2020 ruling that Happy was not a person.
Happy’s legal advocates had argued the elephant was self-aware. They pointed to a a 2006 “mirror test” that showed elephants, chimps and dolphins recognize themselves — just as humans do.
In a blistering 70-page dissent from the majority decision, Court of Appeals Judge Rowan Wilson cited Happy’s mirror test in favoring the elephant’s release from the zoo.
“She was able to recognize her reflection in the mirror as herself,” Wilson wrote. “Happy has a level of autonomy, intelligence and understanding that could make suffering particularly acute…She understands that her life progresses sequentially, and she is aware that she is alone.”
“We should recognize Happy’s right to petition for her liberty not just because she is a wild animal who is not meant to be caged and displayed, but because the rights we confer on others define who we are as a society,” Wilson concluded.
Happy the elephant was “kidnapped” in Thailand in the 1970s and taken to her home in the Bronx where she has been for more than four decades,” lawyers with the Nonhuman Rights Project said in court filings seeking release.
She lived alongside Grumpy, a fellow elephant, until Grumpy died in 2002 after being attacked by two other elephants.
Attorneys seeking Happy’s release from custody say that the Bronx Zoo’s 265 acres of park are less than 1% of the space the 51-year-old pachyderm would cover in a day in the wild.
They had suggested she be moved to elephant sanctuaries in either Tennessee or California.
“Happy is an extraordinarily intelligent and autonomous being who possesses advanced analytic abilities akin to human beings, who has been forced to miserably live upon a solitary and lonely Bronx Zoo acre for more than four decades, and who should be treated with respect and dignity and may be entitled to liberty,” her lawyers wrote.
The Bronx Zoo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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