Court assesses whether legal human right extends to elephant | News, Sports, Jobs


FILE – In this Oct. 2, 2018, file photo, the Bronx Zoo’s ‘Happy’ elephant walks inside the zoo’s Asia Habitat in New York City. A legal fight to free Happy the elephant from the Bronx Zoo after 45 years will be argued Wednesday, May 18, 2022 in New York’s highest court in a closely watched case over whether a basic human right can be extended to an animal. AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, file)

ALBANY, NY (AP) — She has four limbs, expressive eyes, and enjoys strolling through New York’s greenery. Happy, by species, is an Asian elephant. But is she also a person? That’s the question before New York’s highest court on Wednesday in a closely watched case over whether a basic human right can be extended to an animal. His advocates at the Nonhuman Rights Project say yes: Happy is an autonomous, cognitively complex elephant, worthy of the legal right of “a person.” The Bronx Zoo, where Happy resides, says no: Through an attorney, the zoo says Happy is not imprisoned or a person, but a well-cared-for elephant. “Respected for the magnificent creature that she is.”
Happy has lived at the Bronx Zoo for 45 years. The state Court of Appeals is hearing arguments about whether she should be released through habeas corpus proceedings, which is a way for people to challenge unlawful detention. The Nonhuman Rights Project wants her to leave a “one acre jail” at the zoo to a more spacious sanctuary.
“She better exercise her choices and decide who she wants to be with, where to go, what to do and what to eat,” Project attorney Monica Miller told The Associated Press. “And the zoo forbids her to make any of those choices herself.”
The group said that in 2005, Happy became the first elephant to pass a self-awareness indicator test, repeatedly touching a blank “X” on her forehead as she looked at herself in a large mirror. The zoo and its supporters warn that a victory for advocates could open the door to more legal action on behalf of animals, including pets and other species in zoos.
“If the courts follow the NRP’s request to grant animals personality for habeas corpus purposes, elephants along with other animals in all modern zoos in this country should be released or transferred to the chosen facility. by the NRP,” he added. Kenneth Manning, attorney for the zoo operator Wildlife Conservation Society, wrote in a court filing. Happy was born in the wild in Asia in the early 1970s, captured and brought to the United States when she was one year old, where she was eventually named after one of the characters in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Happy arrived at the Bronx Zoo in 1977 with fellow elephant Grumpy, who was fatally injured in a 2002 confrontation with two other elephants. Happy now lives in an enclosure adjacent to the zoo’s other elephant, Patty. The zoo’s attorney argued in court documents that Happy could swim, feed and engage in other behaviors natural to elephants.
“The blatant exploitation of Happy the elephant by NRP to advance their coordinated agenda shows no concern for the individual animal and reveals the fact that they are willing to sacrifice Happy’s health and psychological well-being to create a previous”, the zoo said in a prepared statement. NRP lawyers say no matter how Happy is treated at the zoo, her right to “bodily freedom” is violated. They argue that if the court recognizes Happy’s right to that freedom under habeas corpus, she will be a “nobody” For this purpose. And then she must be freed. The lower courts ruled against the PNR. And the group has failed to prevail in similar cases, including those involving an upstate New York chimp named Tommy. But last October, at the request of another animal rights group, a federal judge ruled that infamous Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar “cocaine hippopotamus” could be recognized as persons or “interested persons” with legal rights in the United States The decision had no real consequences for the hippos themselves, given that they reside in Colombia. Opponents hope the NRP’s string of court losses will continue with the high-profile New York court. In a amicus curiae brief, the New York Farm Bureau and other farm groups said the NRP “new theory of personality” sweep away the pigs, cows and chickens. The National Association for Biomedical Research said allowing such petitions on behalf of animals could drive up the costs of conducting critical research. State and national associations representing veterinarians filed a brief stating that the NRP lawsuit promotes animal personality rights above animal welfare. Supporters of the NRP’s action include public figures such as Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe. Many of them see this case as a chance for society to take a step forward in the ethical treatment of animals.
“We believe this legal moment for Happy represents a key cultural crossroads to think more openly and honestly – and less selfishly – about what it would mean to treat the specialness of nonhuman animals with the moral seriousness it deserves,” a memoir submitted by Catholic academic theologians read. The court’s decision is expected in the coming months. At least one animal rights advocate suggests that a single court ruling won’t change society’s view of animal use. Rutgers Law School professor Gary Francione, who is not involved in the case, said it would require a broader cultural shift.
“I have been vegan for 40 years. Don’t get me wrong, I totally disagree with the use of animals,” Francon said. “Just the fact that the court starts saying non-human animals are people under the law is going to raise all sorts of questions, the answers to which won’t be available to many people.”



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