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Pachyderms are persons too, lawyers say in court case over Happy, a 48-year-old Bronx Zoo elephant

2019-09-24

She’s alone and confined — but has as much a right to happiness as a pachyderm in the wild, insist lawyers purporting to represent Happy, a Bronx Zoo elephant.

Zookeepers stomp on Happy’s rights by by refusing to release her to a proper animal sanctuary, lawyer Steven Wise of the Nonhuman Rights Project argued Monday in Bronx Supreme Court.

Happy, 48, has been “imprisoned” at the zoo since 1977 — and has the same rights as a human to live freely, the group says.

“Indian elephants don’t belong in New York City,” said Wise, who is also the Nonhuman Rights Project’s founder and president.

“She lives in a building for half the year. This is not how an elephant should be treated,” Wise said.

He cited research from elephant scientists who say confinement can make the animals act in “psychotic” ways they might not act in the wild.

Happy, who was probably born in Thailand, didn’t ask to lawyer up.

Wise’s group filed a lawsuit in 2018 demanding recognition of Happy’s “legal personhood.” It calls Happy one of its “clients,” and says its mission is to “secure fundamental rights for nonhuman animals through litigation, legislation, and education.”

The Bronx Zoo insists Happy is doing fine in her enclosure. “In short, Happy is happy where she is,” said Ken Manning, a zoo lawyer.

Bronx Judge Alison Y. Tuitt will determine whether Happy should be regarded as a person, entitled to liberty and freedom under the law.

The zoo is pushing back hard against animal rights’ advocates claims that it mistreats Happy.

“If NhRP [Nonhuman Rights Project] were truly concerned about the health or well-being of Happy they would not be exploiting her to keep their agenda of extending legal personhood to animals in the news,” said zoo spokeswoman Mary Dixon.

Spencer Lo, a lawyer for NhRP, said the entire case could have been over before it began. “We agreed to dismiss the case if they sent Happy to a sanctuary,” Lo said. “But they rejected that.”

Hercules and Leo, chimpanzees that were used as experiment subjects at SUNY Stony Brook on Long Island, were freed in 2018 amidst similar arguments brought by NhRP. They now live in a sanctuary in Georgia.