Is Happy the elephant a person? New York court debates whether the pachyderm has human rights

An organization that claims to be the only animal civil rights organization in the US wants to know if an elephant in a New York zoo can be considered an autonomous “person” and decide if it can walk away from “one.” – acrid prison.

The New York Supreme Court heard arguments to consider whether Happy, an elephant at the Bronx Zoo, should be released through habeas corpus.

A habeas corpus proceeding challenges the unlawful detention of a person or someone on their behalf.

Advocates from the Nonhuman Rights Project (NRP), which are challenging Happy’s confinement at the zoo, said the elephant is an autonomous “person” and should be moved from the “one-acre prison” at the zoo to a sanctuary more spacious.

Happy has lived at the zoo for 45 years.

“She has an interest in exercising her options and deciding who she wants to be with, where to go, what to do and what to eat,” the group’s attorney, Monica Miller, told The Associated Press before oral arguments.

“And the zoo forbids her from making any of those decisions for herself.”

NRP makes the claims on the basis that Happy became the first elephant to pass a self-awareness indicator test, something the group had noted in 2005.

The elephant had repeatedly touched a white “X” on her forehead while looking at herself in a large mirror, the group said.

Zoo operators have opposed moving Happy because they say such a decision could lead to more such legal action on behalf of the animals.

“If there’s going to be a complete rewrite and granting animals rights they’ve never had before, shouldn’t the legislature do it?” Kenneth Manning, an attorney for the zoo operator Wildlife Conservation Society, questioned the judges.

The zoo, in a statement prepared for the court, accused the NRP of having a “coordinated agenda.”

“NRP’s blatant exploitation of Happy the elephant to advance their coordinated agenda shows no concern for the individual animal and betrays the fact that they are willing to sacrifice Happy’s health and psychological well-being to set a precedent,” he said. .

NRP has also argued that if the court upholds Happy’s right to habeas corpus release, she will be a “person” for that purpose and should then be released.

Judge Jenny Rivera questioned the group’s attorney about the implications of NRP’s position on human-animal relations.

“So does that mean I couldn’t have a dog?” she asked. “I mean, dogs can memorize words.”

Ms Miller responded by saying that there was more evidence for the cognitive abilities of elephants than dogs.

The 51-year-old Asian elephant, who has been at the zoo since 1977, has been kept separately from other elephants in a one-acre (0.4-hectare) enclosure at the zoo since around 2006, court records show.

Zoo officials said Happy’s conditions at the zoo are in compliance with the law.

“There has to be an illegal detention for the remedy to even apply,” Manning said, referring to habeas corpus.

“There have been no illegal arrests here.”

Past efforts to give animals, including chimpanzees, legal status have been unsuccessful, Reuters reported.

The court is expected to rule on the case in the coming months.

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