Client, Happy (Elephant)
First elephant to pass mirror self-recognition test; held alone at the Bronx Zoo.
Happy is a female Asian elephant who was born in the wild in 1971. “Captured as a baby, probably from Thailand, in the early 1970s, along with six other calves, possibly from the same herd,” according to The New York Times, she was imported to the US and sold for $800 to the now defunct Lion Country Safari, Inc. in Laguna Hills, California, which named the calves after the dwarves in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. That same year, Sleepy died, and the corporation relocated Happy, Grumpy, Sneezy, Doc, Dopey, and Bashful to the still operational The Lion Country Safari in Loxahatchee, Florida.
In 1977, the proprietors relocated all six elephants to circuses and zoos across the US. Happy and Grumpy were sent to the Bronx Zoo (operated by the Wildlife Conservation Society, formerly the New York Zoological Society) to be part of the newly created Wild Asia Monorail exhibit (then called the Bengali Express Monorail). There, in addition to displaying the elephants, the zoo, through the 1980s, compelled them to give rides, participate in tug-of-war contests, and perform tricks, as publicized by The New York Times (“Fordham’s Rams Defeat Zoo’s Elephant in Bronx,” “Two-Day Party in Celebration of Elephants at Bronx Zoo”) and The New Yorker (“Elephant Extravaganza”). Of Happy’s demeanor and role in these purportedly educational shows, the elephants’ “low-key, no nonsense trainer” said: “Happy is a more physical elephant than anything I’ve ever seen … Most people, when they train elephants, cats, horses or whatever, usually turn them loose and just watch them for hours. Then you can figure what trick to put on each elephant. Happy runs more, she moves more, she’s rougher. That’s why I put all the physical tricks on her: the hind-leg stand, the sit-up.”
In 2002, the Bronx Zoo euthanized Grumpy after she was attacked by two other elephants held in captivity there. The zoo separated Happy from Patty and Maxine and introduced a younger female Asian elephant named Sammie (also known as Maya, Sammi, Sami, Samuel R II) to be Happy’s companion.
In 2006, the Bronx Zoo euthanized Sammie after she suffered kidney failure. Shortly after, the zoo, announced it would end its captive elephant program once one or more of the elephants had died: “If two die, officials say it would be inhumane to sustain an exhibit with a single elephant.”
From 2006 to the present, to protect Happy from the other elephants and with assurances from zoo director Jim Breheny that Happy is sufficiently happy where she is, “The Bronx Zoo’s Loneliest Elephant” has lived alone, without a true elephant companion, in a rotating portion of the 1.15-acre exhibit. According to The New York Post, “Happy spends most of her time indoors in a large holding facility lined with elephant cages, which are about twice the length of the animals’ bodies. The public never sees this.”
Breheny acknowledges Happy “does not share the same physical space with our two other elephants because they do not get along, [but] she is in tactile and auditory contact with them.” It is unclear what Breheny means by tactile contact. He insists the zoo is prioritizing Happy’s best interests and has questioned the capacity of elephant sanctuaries to provide long-term care to elephants like Happy compared to what zoos can provide.
In 2017, Patty was diagnosed with tuberculosis, as discussed in a May 2018 episode of Animal Planet’s The Zoo about her ongoing medical treatment. According to the zoo, “all of the subsequent weekly tests we have done with Patty have showed no presence of the TB bacterium … Our two other elephants, Happy and Maxine, are tested every three months and have not tested positive for TB.” In Defense of Animals and other animal advocates have criticized Animal Planet for sanitizing the elephants’ suffering in captivity.
A now-closed Change.org petition calling for an end to Happy’s solitary confinement has over 200,000 signatures. Beginning in 2015, IDA included The Bronx Zoo on its “Hall of Shame” list for refusing to allow Happy to go to a sanctuary.
CURRENT STATUS: Habeas corpus hearing scheduled for Dec. 14th
A timeline of Happy’s case:
10/2/18: The NhRP announces it is filing a petition for a common law writ of habeas corpus in New York Supreme Court, Orleans County, demanding recognition of Happy’s legal personhood and fundamental right to bodily liberty as well as her transfer to an elephant sanctuary. In a supplemental affidavit submitted with the petition, elephant expert Joyce Poole writes:
“Active more than 20 hours each day elephants move many miles across landscapes to locate resources to maintain their large bodies, to connect with friends and to search for mates. Elephants have evolved to move. Holding them captive and confined prevents them from engaging in normal, autonomous behavior and can result in the development of arthritis, osteoarthritis, osteomyelitis, boredom and stereotypical behavior. Held in isolation elephants become bored, depressed, aggressive, catatonic and fail to thrive. Human caregivers are no substitute for the numerous, complex social relationships and the rich gestural and vocal communication exchanges that occur between free-living elephants.”
Read and download our petition; our Memorandum of Law; and affidavits submitted by Lucy Bates (Honorary Research Fellow, School of Psychology & Neuroscience, University of St Andrews) and Richard M. Byrne (Research Professor, School of Psychology and Neuroscience, Center for Social Learning & Cognitive Evolution, University of St Andrews) [JOINT 1 and 2], Karen McComb (Professor of Animal Behaviour & Cognition, University of Sussex), Cynthia Moss (Program Director and Trustee, Amboseli Trust for Elephants), Joyce Poole (Co-founder and Co-director, ElephantVoices) [ORIGINAL + SUPPLEMENTAL], and Ed Stewart (President & Co-Founder, Performing Animal Welfare Society). Read our press release here.
10/11/18: The NhRP files a Motion to Strike in response to the improper filing of a Memorandum of Law by the Wildlife Conservation Society (which operates the Bronx Zoo) that sought to prematurely litigate some of the issues the NhRP raised in our petition and Memorandum of Law.
10/25/18: The NhRP files a motion with the New York Supreme Court, Orleans County, asking the Court to rule by Nov. 30th or immediately thereafter on our petition. As detailed in the Memorandum of Law that accompanies our Motion to Rule, “the NhRP respectfully submits that it is entitled [under New York law] to a prompt ruling by this Court on whether it will issue the Order to Show Cause so that Happy’s ongoing unlawful imprisonment may be addressed ‘without delay.’” Nov. 30 is the return date set by the court on the NhRP’s other pending motions. Read the Motion and Memorandum of Law here.
11/16/18: The Hon. Tracey A. Bannister of the Orleans County Supreme Court issues an Order to Show Cause, setting Dec. 14, 2018 as the date at which oral argument will be held in the Orleans County Court to determine whether Happy should be released immediately from her imprisonment at the Bronx Zoo. This is the second time in United States legal history and the first time anywhere on behalf of an elephant that a habeas corpus Order has been issued on behalf of a nonhuman animal.
“- NhRP petition
Respondent’s imprisonment of Happy deprives her of her ability to exercise her autonomy in meaningful ways, including the freedom to choose where to go, what to do, and with whom to be.”