New York’s top court on Tuesday rejected an effort to free Happy the elephant from the Bronx Zoo, ruling that she does not meet the definition of “person” who is being illegally confined.
The 5-2 decision by the state Court of Appeals affirms an earlier court decision and means Happy will not be released through a habeas corpus proceeding, which is a way for people to challenge illegal confinement.
The majority decision written by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said that “while no one disputes that elephants are intelligent beings deserving of proper care and compassion,” a writ of habeas corpus is intended to protect the liberty of human beings and does not apply to a nonhuman animal like Happy.
The case had been closely watched by animal rights activists and industries that depend on animals. The zoo and its supporters warned that a win for advocates at the Nonhuman Rights Project could open the door to more legal actions on behalf of animals, including pets and other species in zoos.
The advocates at the Nonhuman Rights Project argued that Happy is an autonomous, cognitively complex elephant worthy of the right reserved in law for “a person.”
The Bronx Zoo argued Happy is neither illegally imprisoned nor a person, but a well-cared-for elephant “respected as the magnificent creature she is.”