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The Latest in Happy’s Elephant Rights Case

By Lauren Choplin

The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) has filed a Reply to the Bronx Zoo’s brief in our appeal in Happy’s elephant rights case, attacking the legal errors made by a higher court that Bronx Supreme Court Justice Alison Y. Tuitt “regrettably” felt obligated to follow even though she “agrees [with the NhRP] that Happy is more than just a legal thing, or property. She is an intelligent, autonomous being who should be treated with respect and dignity, and may be entitled to liberty.”

Our Reply Brief begins with Justice Tuitt’s finding that “the arguments advanced by the NhRP are extremely persuasive for transferring Happy from her solitary, lonely one-acre exhibit at the Bronx Zoo, to an elephant sanctuary,” then calls attention to the Bronx Zoo’s imprisonment a century ago of a man kidnapped from an African pygmy tribe and put on display in the Zoo’s Primate House. The Bronx Zoo did not publicly apologize for this wrong until July of this year when it pledged “to never look away whenever and wherever injustice occurs.”

The NhRP’s appeal asks the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department to recognize Happy’s common law right to bodily liberty as an autonomous being, reverse the lower court’s dismissal of Happy’s habeas petition, and remand the case with instructions to order Happy’s release to an elephant sanctuary.

As the NhRP emphasizes in our Reply Brief, “[T]he fact that the Bronx Zoo may be in compliance with various animal welfare laws is wholly irrelevant. This case does not turn on whether Happy’s temperature is being taken, what her blood panel is, or what she has eaten for breakfast. Rather, like all common law habeas corpus cases, it turns on whether Happy’s imprisonment violates her common law right to bodily liberty.”

World-renowned elephant experts, including Dr. Joyce Poole and Dr. Cynthia Moss, have submitted scientific affidavits in support of the NhRP. In July of this year, Harvard Law Professor Laurence H. Tribe, habeas corpus scholars Justin Marceau and Samuel Wiseman, and a group of twelve philosophers have submitted amicus briefs in support of the NhRP.

Happy is the first elephant in the world to have habeas corpus hearings to determine the lawfulness of her imprisonment. She is also the first elephant in the world to have demonstrated self-awareness via the mirror self-recognition test.

Oral arguments in Happy’s case have not yet been scheduled.

On Friday, Oct. 2nd—the two-year anniversary of the filing of Happy’s habeas corpus petition—NhRP President Steven M. Wise and NhRP Staff Attorney Elizabeth Stein will discuss the latest in Happy’s case, why we’re fighting for her right to liberty, the progress we’ve made so far, and more. Learn more here.

For a detailed timeline of Happy’s case, links to court filings and Happy’s biography, visit this page.

CASE NO./NAME: THE NONHUMAN RIGHTS PROJECT, INC. on behalf of HAPPY, Petitioner, v. JAMES J. BREHENY, in his official capacity as Executive Vice President and General Director of Zoos and Aquariums of the Wildlife Conservation Society and Director of the Bronx Zoo, and WILDLIFE CONSERVATION SOCIETY (Appellate Case No. 2020-02581)

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