Happy the elephant might be intelligent and worthy of compassion. However, she cannot be considered an illegally detained person at the Bronx Zoo. This was the ruling Tuesday by New York's highest court.
The state Court of Appeals' 5-2 decision comes in a closely monitored case that examined the limits of animal rights.
The supporters of the zoo warned that a victory for the Nonhuman Rights Project advocates could open the doors to additional legal actions for animals. This includes farm animals as well as animals in zoos.
This point was echoed by the court's majority.
Chief Judge Janet DiFiore ruled that, "while nobody disputes that elephants can be intelligent beings deserving proper care and compassion", a habeas corpus writ is meant to protect liberty of human beings but does not apply to Happy.
This decision confirms a lower court ruling and means that Happy will not be freed through a habeas Corpus proceeding. This is a process for people to challenge illegal imprisonment. The majority decision stated that Happy's right to challenge her confinement in a zoo would have "an enormously destabilizing effect on modern society."
"Indeed," the decision reads.
According to the Bronx Zoo, Happy is not illegally in prison or a person. Happy is a well-cared for elephant that is "respected as a magnificent creature"
Advocates at the Nonhuman Rights Project claimed that Happy is an intelligent, cognitively sophisticated elephant and therefore deserving of the legal right to be called "a person."
Rowan Wilson, Jenny Rivera and Jenny Rivera wrote sharply-worded dissents stating that Happy's status as an animal does NOT prevent her from exercising legal rights. Rivera stated that Happy is being held "in an environment that is not natural to her" and that it does not permit her to live her normal life.
"Her captivity inherently inhumane and unjust. It is an affront against a civilized society, she remains a prisoner aEUR” a spectacle for people aEUR” we, too, are diminished,” Rivera wrote.
New York's highest court has made the decision final and cannot be appealed. In similar cases, the Nonhuman Rights Project failed to win, even in those involving Tommy, a chimpanzee from upstate New York.
Steven Wise, founder of the group, stated that he was happy it managed to convince some judges. He pointed out that there is a similar case in California, and another in the works in other states.
He said, "We will look closely at the reasons we lost and we'll do our best to prevent it from happening again."
Happy was born in Asia in the 1970s. He was captured and brought to America as a 1-year old. Happy was born in the Bronx Zoo with Grumpy, a fellow elephant. Grumpy died in 2002 in an altercation with two other elephants.