NEW YORK CITY, New York: In a closely watched case that sought to apply human rights to animals, New York’s top court ruled 5-2 that Happy the elephant cannot be considered a person being illegally confined in the Bronx Zoo.
The decision affirms a lower court ruling and means Happy will not be released to a more spacious sanctuary through a habeas corpus proceeding, which is a legal method for people to challenge illegal confinement.
The decision, written by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, said that “while no one disputes that elephants are intelligent beings deserving of proper care and compassion,” a writ of habeas corpus is intended to protect the liberty of human beings and does not apply to a nonhuman animal like Happy.
“Indeed, followed to its logical conclusion, such a determination would call into question the very premises underlying pet ownership, the use of service animals, and the enlistment of animals in other forms of work,” read the decision.
Operators of the Bronx Zoo argued that Happy is neither illegally imprisoned nor a person, but a well-cared-for elephant “respected as the magnificent creature she is.”
The advocates at the Nonhuman Rights Project argued that Happy is an autonomous, cognitively complex elephant worthy of the right reserved in law for “a person.”
Two judges, Rowan Wilson and Jenny Rivera, wrote separate, sharply worded dissents saying the fact that Happy being an animal does not prevent her from having legal rights.
The ruling from New York’s highest court cannot be appealed.