Happy is an Asian elephant – but is she also a person?


By AGENCY

In this 2018 file photo, Happy the elephant strolls inside the Bronx Zoo's Asia Habitat in New York. A legal fight to release her from the zoo after 45 years was argued on May 18, 2022, before New York's highest court. Photo: AP

She has four limbs, expressive eyes and likes to stroll through greenery in New York City. Happy, by species, is an Asian elephant. But can she also be considered a person?

That question was before New York’s highest court Wednesday (May 18) in a closely watched case over whether a basic human right can be extended to an animal.

The advocates at the Nonhuman Rights Project say yes: Happy is an autonomous, cognitively complex elephant worthy of the right reserved in law for “a person”.

The Bronx Zoo, where Happy resides, says no: Through an attorney, the zoo argues Happy is neither illegally imprisoned nor a person, but a well-cared-for elephant “respected as the magnificent creature she is”.Happy has lived at the Bronx Zoo for 45 years. The state Court of Appeals heard arguments over whether she should be released through a habeas corpus proceeding, which is a way for people to challenge illegal confinement.The Nonhuman Rights Project wants her moved from a “one-acre prison” at the zoo to a more spacious sanctuary.

“She has an interest in exercising her choices and deciding who she wants to be with, and where to go, and what to do, and what to eat,” project attorney Monica Miller told The Associated Press ahead of the oral arguments. “And the zoo is prohibiting her from making any of those choices herself.” – AP/Michael Hill

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