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The Latest Briefs in New York Elephant Rights Case

By Lauren Choplin

“The answer to the question of whether this Court must recognize Happy’s common law right to bodily liberty protected by habeas corpus will depend on the intrinsic nature of elephants as a species.”  – NhRP brief

This week the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) filed our Reply Brief with the New York Court of Appeals in our habeas corpus case demanding the right to bodily liberty of an elephant named Happy held alone in captivity in the Bronx Zoo. The NhRP’s Reply addresses the brief the Bronx Zoo filed with the Court on Aug. 23rd, specifically its failures to rebut the NhRP’s arguments, its misrepresentations of the NhRP’s arguments, and its omissions of key aspects of the Bronx Supreme Court’s factual determinations regarding Happy’s autonomy and extraordinary cognitive complexity.

In recent weeks, two prominent philosophers, Christine M. Korsgaard (Arthur Kingsley Porter Research Professor of Philosophy, Harvard University) and Martha C. Nussbaum (Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics, The University of Chicago) became the latest experts to support Happy’s habeas corpus petition and release to an elephant sanctuary.

Happy is a 50-year-old Asian elephant who has been held in captivity since 1977 in a one-acre exhibit in the Bronx Zoo, which is managed by the Wildlife Conservation Society. For the last 15 years Happy—the first elephant in the world to demonstrate self-awareness via the mirror test and the first to have habeas corpus hearings to determine the lawfulness of her imprisonment—has lived without the company of other elephants. In May of this year, New York’s highest court agreed to consider the NhRP’s arguments in support of Happy’s legal personhood and right to liberty, marking the first time in history that the highest court of any English-speaking jurisdiction will hear a habeas corpus case brought on behalf of someone other than a human being.

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

  • Read the NhRP’s Reply Brief here.
  • Read Professor Christine M. Korsgaard’s brief here.
  • Read Professor Martha C. Nussbaum’s brief here.

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 new Free Happy campaign page.

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