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2074, the Bronx

By Nonhuman Rights

For Earth Week 2024, we’re sharing glimpses of our vision for a just future for nonhuman animals. Below is a story from the future inspired by an NhRP client: Happy.

The scent of spring flowers drifts through the air. The sun warms my face, making me drowsy as I walk the path that leads to the Bronx Gardens, formerly the Bronx Zoo. I’m pulled back to wakefulness by a childhood memory of what was once here. Or rather, who.

The only time I saw Happy the elephant in person, it was 2019–fifty-five years ago now. I was ten years old then, and my parents and I had just moved to New York. The elephant exhibit had just reopened, which meant the elephants could leave the small building they were kept in all winter and finally go outside. 

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We weren’t on the Wild Asia Monorail long before we saw her–standing nearly motionless in front of a feeding trough, her body huge and tired-looking. As we looked down at her from the monorail tracks, a tour guide told us how much elephants weigh. Only as an adult could I put words to how sad this made me: Happy’s entire life destroyed so humans could catch a fleeting glimpse and hear a basic fact. It seemed like we’d barely stopped before the monorail car rolled on, leaving Happy behind. I remember feeling like Happy would be standing there forever.

But, almost miraculously, that’s not what happened.

With the memory of Happy in mind, I reach the section of the Bronx Gardens that honors the nonhuman animals who lived and died on these grounds when the Bronx Zoo was still here–when zoos still existed and people still thought it was acceptable, even necessary, to take away the freedom of some members of a species in order to save the rest. I find the statue of Happy. It’s the largest and most well known, placed at the center of a field of flowers in full bloom. Next to the statue a plaque gleams in the morning light. It reads: 

Happy: the elephant who helped awaken humanity to a more just and compassionate world for nonhuman animals.

Because of public support for Happy’s freedom, New York became the first city in the US to ban elephant captivity in 2025, and Happy was released to a sanctuary in 2026, living out her days with peace and dignity. 

Because of Happy’s court case, elephants ultimately gained the right to liberty in New York in 2035, and the now-famous dissents in support of her cause are now prevailing law across the US.

With wonder, I think how much the world has changed since that day I saw Happy. With gratitude, I think how much the world changed for her. I breathe in the fresh air and walk on where I choose–just as Happy finally was able to do.

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