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  • Writer's pictureWorld Half Full

Human rights for elephants?


In a case that may set a legal precedent, lawyers in New York have argued that an elephant should be granted personhood and afforded similar rights to humans. In spite of her upbeat name, “Happy” the elephant is anything but. Detained for four decades in Bronx Zoo — ten of those years alone — Happy has just 4000 square metres of outdoor living space (a little more than the size of three Olympic-size swimming pools); in winter, the 48-year-old female is confined to a smaller indoor space.

Arguing that elephants are “extraordinarily complex creatures” with sophisticated social arrangements, the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) hopes the Bronx Supreme Court will award Happy recognition of her “fundamental right” to liberty and offer her relocation to an elephant sanctuary in California. Presenting Happy’s case to judge Alison Tuitt, Steven Wise, a lawyer for the NhRP, said: “Go visit Happy. You’ll see a depressed elephant.”

In response to the legal challenge, Bronx Zoo released a statement that read: “Despite all that has been said about [Happy] from outside critics, she is quite content and is evaluated frequently by the people who know her best, including the team of veterinarians that have cared for her for decades and the animal care staff who interact with Happy for hours each day.” The NhRP argues Happy is being held illegally in inhumane conditions and that, as an autonomous being, her rights must be considered.

Meanwhile, an online petition has gathered more than one million signatures in support of Happy’s move. Joann Burrows, who initiated the campaign, writes: “Happy is likely not at all happy. She has endured a decade of loneliness and deserves the chance to be with others of her kind in a sanctuary. Please join me in telling the Bronx Zoo to release Happy and let her really have a chance at happiness.”

Happy’s case continues, with a further court date set for January 2020.

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