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Press release

Legal Fight to Free Happy the Elephant Continues in New York

Today we filed a motion to reargue the 5-2 decision by New York’s highest court issued in June in our landmark case to #FreeHappy the elephant from the Bronx Zoo to an elephant sanctuary.

As we write in our motion, the New York Court of Appeals “misapprehended and overlooked crucial points of law and fact … resulting in an arbitrary and irrational decision—one that not only sanctions the daily injustice inflicted upon Happy at the Bronx Zoo, but has created instability and confusion in New York law with grave implications for illegally confined human beings.”

The NhRP repeatedly cites the two dissenting opinions, which harshly criticize the majority and have been lauded as a historic mark of progress in the global fight to secure fundamental legal rights for nonhuman animals. If the reargument motion is granted, the Court may order another hearing and will issue a decision explaining why it will either reverse or clarify its prior decision.

I asked Monica Miller, the NhRP attorney who argued Happy’s case, why the legal team felt this move was important, even if the Court doesn’t grant our motion: “No differently than if we had a human client, we feel it’s important to do all we can in pursuit of freedom for Happy,” Monica said. “This includes challenging the wrongness of the majority decision, which, as the two dissenting judges understood, harms Happy as much as it undermines the values and principles of justice upon which our own human rights depend. That’s what this motion is about.”

In May, the Court of Appeals became the first state high court in the US and in any English-speaking jurisdiction to consider a case calling for a nonhuman being to be recognized as a rights-holder (i.e. a legal person as opposed to a legal “thing”). In a widely covered hearing, the NhRP argued for recognition of Happy’s fundamental right to liberty and release to a sanctuary where this right would be respected.

Of the ongoing grassroots campaign to free Happy, NhRP Attorney Elizabeth Stein, who is Happy’s New York counsel, told me: “As we file this motion we stress that, regardless of how the Court rules on it, the Bronx Zoo and the Wildlife Conservation Society, which manages the zoo, don’t need a court order to do the right thing—which is to release Happy and the other elephant they keep in solitary confinement, Patty, to sanctuaries and close the elephant exhibit for good, as the Bronx Zoo once pledged to do.”

With the Court not in session for the remaining summer months, the NhRP does not expect a decision on the motion until September at the earliest.

Thank you for your support for elephants’ right to live freely!

For a detailed timeline of Happy’s case, court filings, and decisions, visit this page. Find all the latest on the fight for Happy’s freedom and ways to take action on our #FreeHappy campaign page.

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