Happy the elephant, who has been apparently unhappily ‘imprisoned’ at a zoo, will have her day in the highest court in New York in what could be a landmark animal rights case.
The New York Court of Appeals on Tuesday agreed to hear the habeas corpus case of Happy, an Asian elephant that has lived mostly alone at Bronx Zoo since 2002. A habeas corpus case typically concerns whether a citizen’s detention is justified. The Nonhuman Rights Project, a New York-based legal nonprofit dedicated to animals rights, adopted Happy as a client in 2018.
Since then, the nonprofit has argued that Happy is ‘an autonomous and cognitively complex nonhuman animal who has been imprisoned at the Bronx Zoo for over four decades.’
The nonprofit is pushing for Happy to be granted a writ of habeas corpus and moved to an elephant sanctuary, and the court’s agreement to hear the case is a step in that direction.
‘This marks the first time in history that the highest court of any English-speaking jurisdiction will hear a habeas corpus case brought on behalf of someone other than a human being,’ the nonprofit wrote on its blog on Tuesday.
The nonprofit faces what is expected to be an uphill battle. However, an associate judge at the Court of Appeals, Judge Eugene M Fahey, previously wrote that whether a nonhuman animal is entitled to habeas corpus ‘will have to be addressed eventually’.
Lower courts have sided with Bronx Zoo, which stated last year that ‘all decisions regarding the health and welfare of the animals at the Bronx Zoo should and will be made by the zoo’s animal experts who know them best’.
The nonprofit says Happy’s case has the support of leading habeas corpus scholars, legal experts, scientists, philosophers and community members around the world.
‘We are thrilled the Court of Appeals has recognized the urgent public importance of Happy’s case,’ the nonprofit stated, ‘And hope she will soon become the first elephant and nonhuman animal in the US to have her right to bodily liberty judicially recognized.’
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