People often ask us: why is this so hard?
Why does it take so much, for so long, to free an elephant from a situation that is obviously causing her tremendous suffering?
The core reason is that, in and beyond the courtroom, we are challenging a system that has seen elephants and all other nonhuman animals as rightless “things” for thousands of years; the US has imprisoned and exploited elephants for over 200 years. With few exceptions, those who benefit from or are entrenched in this system aren’t eager to change or even question elephants’ archaic legal status.
That’s why the Bronx Zoo and the Wildlife Conservation Society, which manages it, continue to insist against all evidence (including their own past statements) that “Happy is happy” where she is—alone in an exhibit in a city where elephants don’t belong.
And that’s why the USDA consistently gives the benefit of the doubt to the Commerford Zoo—no matter how many times they violate the Animal Welfare Act, no matter how many people express outrage over their continued exploitation of Minnie and other animals.
But there is hope to be found, even in these turbulent times.
We see it in the Islamabad High Court in Pakistan, relying in part on key decisions in our nonhuman rights cases, affirming “without any hesitation” that nonhuman animals have basic legal rights and ordering the release of an elephant named Kaavan from a zoo to a sanctuary—a victory analyzed by Kaavan’s lawyer in this new guest blog post.
We see it in The New York Times’ inspiring story of Mara the elephant’s long journey, both literally and figuratively, to the Global Sanctuary for Elephants, which shows what can happen when people, including zoo leadership, come together to restore an elephant’s dignity and autonomy no matter the obstacles.
We see it in Bronx Supreme Court Justice Alison Y. Tuitt’s decision in Happy’s case, when she recognized 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 who may be entitled to liberty.”
We see it in the positive reception to the op-ed and amicus brief Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe wrote in support of Happy’s right to liberty. A few days after the brief was submitted, the Chief Justice of the Islamabad High Court referenced it in the order freeing Kavaan to a sanctuary in Cambodia and made clear that nonhuman rights are not to be feared, but rather, embraced and celebrated.
What these stories have in common is a deep, shared commitment to doing what’s necessary to right the intolerable wrong of depriving elephants of their freedom.
We’re confident that, with persistence and your continued support, the day is coming when this commitment will be the norm, not the exception.
Thank you for being part of the NhRP community, and Happy World Elephant Day!