US Court to decide fate of lonely elephant Happy 

Happy at the Bronx zoo, animal news
Happy at the Bronx zoo, photo: Gigi Glendinning

New York state’s top court considered on Wednesday whether the 51-year-old Asian elephant Happy, who has been living in captivity at the Bronx zoo since 1977, should have the same legal rights as humans. 

The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) wants the zoo to release Happy to an elephant sanctuary in the United States, saying she is being illegally imprisoned. 

Last year, NhRP said that Happy was unlawfully detained by the Bronx Zoo and asked the court to grant a writ of habeas corpus to determine if Happy’s imprisonment was lawful. 

Habeas corpus is a legal process in which persons who have been illegally detained or someone acting on their behalf may inquire about the reason for their detention. New York law does not define ‘person’ and NhRP said Happy should be recognized as one.

“Elephants are autonomous beings who possess complex cognitive abilities,” NhRP said. “Happy’s interest in exercising that autonomy and bodily liberty is as fundamental to her as it is to us.”

Since around 2006, Happy has been kept alone in a one-acre (0.4-hectare) enclosure at the zoo, court records show. Elephants are very social and family-oriented animals.

The zoo euthanized her Happy’s friend Grumpy in 2002 after she was attacked by two other elephants. After the attack on Grumpy, Happy was separated from the two elephants.

The zoo introduced a younger female Asian elephant named Sammie to be Happy’s companion. In 2005, the zoo euthanized Sammie after she suffered kidney failure. Since then, Happy has been living alone at the zoo.

The Bronx Zoo, run by the Wildlife Conservation Society, maintains that Happy is well cared for, and moving her to a sanctuary would not serve her interests.

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