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NhRP Seeks Appeal in New York’s Highest Court in Happy’s Elephant Rights Case

By Nonhuman Rights

Today we filed a Motion urging the Court of Appeals—New York’s highest court—to hear arguments in support of our elephant client Happy’s right to liberty. The move comes after New York’s First Department Appellate Court dismissed the case in December 2020.

Happy is a 50-year-old Asian elephant held alone in captivity at the Bronx Zoo. In November, the exhibit closed for the winter, with Happy held in an industrial cement structure lined with windowless, barred cages (the zoo’s “elephant barn”) until the exhibit reopens in May. Happy made history in 2005 as the first elephant to demonstrate self-awareness via the mirror test, and in December of 2018 she became the first elephant in the world to have a habeas corpus hearing after the Orleans Supreme Court issued the NhRP’s requested habeas corpus order. In early 2019, the Orleans Supreme Court transferred her case to the Bronx.

We look forward to the possibility of appearing before the Court of Appeals, including Judge Eugene M. Fahey, who reflected on the legal issue of nonhuman animal rights in 2018 in response to two of the NhRP’s chimpanzee rights cases:

Does an intelligent nonhuman animal who thinks and plans and appreciates life as human beings do have the right to the protection of the law against arbitrary cruelties and enforced detentions visited on him or her? This is not merely a definitional question, but a deep dilemma of ethics and policy that demands our attention … Can a nonhuman animal be entitled to release from confinement through the writ of habeas corpus? Should such a being be treated as a person or as property, in essence a thing? … The question will have to be addressed eventually.

Approval from at least two of the seven New York Court of Appeals judges is needed for the Motion to be granted.

This is the fourth time the NhRP has asked the Court of Appeals, which only hears about 5 percent of the cases that request to be heard, to decide whether our autonomous nonhuman animal client should be released pursuant to habeas corpus. As we write in our Motion, “The Nonhuman Rights Project respectfully submits that the time to address this question [in the New York Court of Appeals] has arrived.”

The Motion also details how courts outside New York and around the world have begun to grapple with the broader issue of nonhuman animal rights, most famously in the cases of Kaavan the elephant and Sandra the orangutan, both of whom were imprisoned alone in zoos and released to sanctuaries.

 If the Court of Appeals decides to hear Happy’s case, the NhRP would argue that it “can and should now put an end to the injustice of Happy’s decades-long imprisonment at the Bronx Zoo and grant her freedom.” As world-renowned elephant expert Dr. Joyce Poole has written in support of Happy’s case, “Simply put, the Bronx Zoo’s exhibit is too small to meet the needs of Happy or any elephant. Happy deserves to live the rest of her life at [a sanctuary] where the utmost care will be given to her individual needs and she’ll have the space and conditions needed to heal and to form psychologically necessary bonds with other elephants.”

The NhRP expects the Court of Appeals to rule on today’s Motion within 6 to 8 weeks. Lawyers for the Wildlife Conservation Society, which manages the Bronx Zoo, have until January 29th to respond to the NhRP’s Motion.

To learn more about Happy and her court case, click here. For all the ways you can help #FreeHappy right now, click here.

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