The Nonhuman Rights Project is trying to free a Bronx Zoo elephant from confinement and transfer him to a sanctuary, claiming “Happy” is being illegally imprisoned. The group has filed a habeas corpus writ on its behalf.

New York’s habeas corpus law does not define “person,” so the group said Happy should be recognized as one. But this has opened so many unwanted doors that it doesn’t appear the court is going along with the reasoning that the elephant is entitled to “human rights.”

“Does that mean I couldn’t keep a dog?” New York Court of Appeals Associate Judge Jenny Rivera asked.

Judge Rivera wasn’t alone in being skeptical of the effort.


The judges appeared skeptical of the Nonhuman Rights Project’s arguments, with some asking why habeas corpus would apply since the group was seeking to trade Happy’s confinement at a zoo for confinement at a sanctuary. Other judges appeared concerned that expanding certain legal rights to elephants could be a slippery slope.

As far as being forced to “free” your dog, you can relax. According to the animal rights group, dogs aren’t as smart as elephants.

According to a 2006 study, Happy passed a “mirror self-recognition” test, considered an indicator of self-awareness. The animal rights group argues that is among the many cognitive abilities Happy shares with humans.

“Happy is autonomous by scientific proof,” Miller told the seven judges. “Elephants high-five each other after they drive off an enemy. They do a halftime football kind of dance. They’re just a really special, unique species.”

Yes, elephants are smart and probably self-aware. So, should we take them back to Africa and let them go? Releasing them into a sanctuary is only increasing the size of their jail.

The Bronx Zoo, run by the Wildlife Conservation Society, has said the group is exploiting Happy without concern for the animal’s wellbeing. The judges quizzed Ken Manning, a lawyer for the zoo, on whether habeas corpus would apply to zoo animals if there was evidence they were being kept in unsuitable conditions.

Manning said that it might, but that zoo animals were “highly regulated” and Happy’s conditions complied with the law.

As a PR gimmick and fundraising tool, it’s very clever. But it’s very hard to see how you can grant a “human right” to a non-human.

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