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Nonhuman Rights Project Wins Order, Argues for Happy the Elephant Rights in Bronx Court

Elizabeth Stein, an NhRP attorney which is seeking recognition of Happy's legal personhood and right to liberty followed by her release to an elephant sanctuary, said: 'We think it went exceedingly well'.

NHRP: ‘Arguments in support of the right to liberty of an elephant named Happy — held alone in captivity at the Bronx Zoo—were heard for a second time today in the Bronx Supreme Court, with the Nonhuman Rights Project again winning an order from Justice Alison Y. Tuitt requiring the Bronx Zoo not to move Happy.

“We think it went exceedingly well,” said Elizabeth Stein, an attorney with the NhRP, which last year filed a common law habeas corpus petition on Happy’s behalf, seeking recognition of her legal personhood and right to liberty, followed by her release to an elephant sanctuary. “The judge was engaged; she was thoughtful. She asked terrific questions. It’s clear she had given a tremendous amount of thought to our first hearing.”

The nearly four-hour-long proceedings focused primarily on the merits of the Happy’s elephant rights case—Happy’s legal personhood and right to liberty, why the capacity for rights isn’t and never has been limited to human beings, and why Happy, as an autonomous being, should be released to a sanctuary where her right to liberty will be respected.

At one point, Justice Tuitt asked Steven M. Wise, an attorney and president of the NhRP, “What indication was there that Happy is unhappy?” Wise responded that the Bronx Zoo’s filings regarding Happy’s supposed physical health “only focus on Happy as a machine. They say nothing about her emotional contentedness.”

Urging Justice Tuitt to bear in mind the many historical cases that “have always led to bad places because they are based on sheer bias” and not to rule against Happy simply because she is an elephant, NhRP President Steven M. Wise emphasized autonomy as a supreme value of the courts, meant to be protected wherever it is found, regardless of species: “That’s what habeas corpus is about.”

Legal counsel for the Wildlife Conservation Society, which manages the Bronx Zoo, argued in support of Happy remaining a rightless being or “legal thing,” as opposed to a legal person with the fundamental right to liberty protected by the writ of habeas corpus…

As noted by world-renowned elephant expert Dr. Joyce Poole, who studied videos of Happy at the Bronx Zoo and submitted three affidavits in support of Happy’s release, Happy has engaged in unnatural behavior indicative of distress and suffering, including “swinging her trunk in stereotypic behavior, [and] standing with one or two legs lifted off the ground, either to take weight off painful, diseased feet or again engaging in stereotypic behavior.”

More fundamentally, Dr. Poole writes that because elephants are cognitively, emotionally, and socially complex beings “who have evolved to move,” they often develop serious physical and emotional problems when forced to live in isolation in small spaces. She specifically states that the Bronx Zoo’s exhibit is, in fact, unable to meet Happy’s biological, physical, and psychological needs’. SOURCE…


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