New York's top court would hear a case brought on by animal welfare activists over Happy, an elephant who they say has been "imprisoned at the Bronx Zoo for over four decades." The top court said on Tuesday.
This is 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 which relates to cases of unlawful imprisonment, though usually of a human person.
The Nonhuman Rights Project, first brought Happy on as their client in 2018, says they are "seeking recognition of her fundamental right to bodily liberty." They say she should be granted a writ of habeas corpus and transferred to an elephant sanctuary.
Happy, a female Asian elephant, was brought to the zoo in the 1970s along with another elephant, Grumpy, who lived with her for 25 years. After the death of her companion in 2002, Happy has mostly lived alone since. In 2006, Happy became the first elephant to demonstrate self-recognition, when a study found she was able to recognize herself in a mirror, joining the ranks of humans, chimpanzees, and dolphins.
In December, an Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court rejected the case in a unanimous decision, rejecting the characterization of Happy as a "person."
The Bronx Zoo has celebrated the past rejections of the case and has accused the Nonhuman Rights Project of "erroneous arguments," spreading false information, and exploiting Happy for their activism.
According to zoo authority: "Happy is not kept in isolation; Happy is not languishing; Happy is not kept indoors for half the year." "In essence, the lawsuit was never about what was best for Happy but has been a vehicle used by NhRP to generate funds to advance its philosophical cause."