The elephant Happy, 52, must remain at the Bronx Zoo in New York (USA), according to the British newspaper BBC. A resident of the area since 1977, when he was captured in Thailand and taken to the US, the New York court ruled by 5 votes to 2 that, legally, he is not a person and therefore will remain there. The decision was taken yesterday.
The lawsuit had been filed by the Nonhuman Rights Project, a New York-based legal non-profit organization that fights for animal rights. The organization claims that Happy is being illegally confined at the zoo and that the animal has to be taken to an elephant sanctuary.
The court dispute focused on the legal principle of habeas corpus, which protects against unlawful detention, and whether it should be extended to emotionally complex and intelligent animals.
According to Judge Janet DiFiore, who voted with the majority, no one doubts the ability of elephants, but there are limits. “While no one disputes the elephants’ impressive capabilities, we reject the group’s arguments that it has the right to pursue habeas corpus on behalf of Happy. Habeas corpus is intended to guarantee the rights of freedom of human beings that are illegally restricted, not for non-human animals”.
Judge Jenny Rivera, who voted with the minority, said the captivity in which Happy lives is “inhumane”. “Captivity is inherently unfair and inhumane. It is an affront to a civilized society, and every day it remains captive as a spectacle to humans, we too are diminished.”
The Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs the zoo, has rejected the organization’s claims that Happy is trapped in a small enclosure. They say that both the female and another zoo elephant are treated well.
Despite the defeat, the Nonhuman Rights Project saw the bright side of the differing opinions of the decision, calling them “powerful” and plans to use them in another elephant rights case in the US state of California.
Happy is one of the last remaining elephants at the zoo, who has said he will end the program that keeps these pachyderms in captivity.