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Elephant deemed ‘not a legal person’ in landmark animal rights case.

Happy the elephant will stay at the Bronx Zoo, the New York Supreme Court ruled that since she is not a legal person, laws protecting people's rights from wrongful imprisonment cannot apply to her

Happy the elephant will stay at the Bronx Zoo, New York’s highest court ruled that since she is not a legal person, laws protecting people’s rights from wrongful imprisonment cannot apply to her (Image: AP)

Happy the Elephant, a longtime resident of the Bronx Zoo, must remain in her enclosure because she is not legally a person under US law, the New York Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

In a 5-2 decision, the court rejected an animal rights group’s argument that Happy was wrongly confined at the New York Zoo.

The group, the Nonhuman Rights Project, argued that Happy is “an autonomous and cognitively complex nonhuman animal that has been caged at the Bronx Zoo for over four decades.”

They had hoped to have Happy transferred to an animal shelter, but the majority of the court held that habeas corpus – which states a person cannot be imprisoned unless they have been tried – cannot be applied to animals .

An animal rights group had hoped to relocate Happy to an elephant sanctuary

An animal rights group had hoped to relocate Happy to an elephant sanctuary (Image: Reuters)

“While no one disputes that elephants are intelligent beings deserving of proper care and compassion, we reject the petitioner’s arguments that he is entitled to seek the cure for habeas corpus on Happy’s behalf,” Chief Justice Janiet DiFiore wrote in the decision.

“The corpus of habeas is a procedural tool designed to secure the liberties of humans who are unlawfully detained, not nonhuman animals.”

The decision reinforces a lower court ruling that Happy will not be released from the zoo to a sanctuary through habeas corpus, presenting a way for people to challenge unlawful detention.

The court said extending that right to Happy would affect how people interact with animals.

Happy takes place at the Bronx Zoo in New York City, where staff at the Wildlife Conservation Society say she is a well-cared for resident

Happy is being held at the Bronx Zoo in New York City, where Wildlife Conservation Society officials say she is a well-cared for resident (Image: Reuters)

“Indeed, such a finding, taken to its logical conclusion, would call into question the basic requirements for owning pets, using service animals and employing animals in other forms of work,” the decision reads.

The Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs the zoo, argued that Happy is a well-cared for elephant “respected for the magnificent creature that she is.”

Two judges wrote separate disagreements, saying that while Happy is an animal, that doesn’t prevent her from having legal rights.

“Their imprisonment is inherently unjust and inhuman. It is an affront to a civilized society and every time she remains a prisoner – a spectacle for people – we too are weakened,” Judge Jenny Rivera wrote.

The judgment cannot be appealed. The Nonhuman Rights Project has failed to win victories in other similar cases over the years.

Happy was born in Thailand in the 1970s, where she was captured and brought to the United States when she was about a year old. She has lived at the Bronx Zoo since 1977 and is currently one of two elephants in the zoo’s care.

The zoo, which houses its two remaining elephants separately because they don’t get along, plans to eventually end its captive elephant program.

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https://metro.co.uk/2022/06/15/elephant-deemed-legally-not-a-person-in-landmark-animal-rights-case-16834883/ Elephant deemed 'not a legal person' in landmark animal rights case.

Justin Scacco

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