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HIGH ANXIETY: Could Happy the elephant become a person? Demi-gods fear dogs, cats, and even farm animals may be next

Critics fear that freeing Happy and granting personhood will open the floodgates for animal rights activists to demand the release of every other animal incarcerated.

TOM LEONARD: Happy the elephant prods the wire fence of her enclosure with her trunk, oblivious to the ‘Wild Asia Monorail’ rumbling past a dozen feet above her, carrying yet another batch of Bronx Zoo visitors…  In the next few weeks, the New York Supreme Court will be asked to decide whether Happy is simply an animal or in fact a ‘person’ with legal rights of her own…  The court battle will not only decide her future — her self-appointed legal defenders, an animal rights group, want her to be moved to an elephant sanctuary — it could also fundamentally reshape our relationship with the animal world…

In the latest round of action, Steven Wise is appealing against a February judgment following a court hearing … where the judge almost ruled in Wise’s favour, saying Happy was ‘an extraordinary animal with complex cognitive abilities, an intelligent, autonomous being who should be treated with respect and dignity’ but that, ‘regretfully’, she was restrained by legal precedent.

The animal rights campaigners behind this bizarre legal action insist that Happy is so intelligent, empathetic and capable of making choices about how to live her life that she is in crucial respects pretty much on a par cognitively with a human. That being so, her ‘solitary confinement’ inside a glorified zoo cage is wrong.

Steven Wise, a lawyer and founder of the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), which works to ‘secure fundamental rights for nonhuman animals’ has filed writs of habeas corpus… Wise has already fought unsuccessfully for the release of three chimps — two used for medical research and a third kept as a pet — and three Connecticut zoo elephants.

They have a point. The NhRP currently only regards great apes, elephants, dolphins and whales as sufficiently intelligent to deserve a change in status from mere ‘things’ to ‘legal persons’ who possess fundamental rights… Wise has previously speculated that dogs might join the list and he told me that ‘almost certainly there are others’ in the animal world who warrant ‘person’ status once there is definitive proof of their high intelligence.

‘All we do is follow the science,’ he insists. And that science is changing continually, with almost every week seeming to bring new evidence that some type of animal is brainier than once thought… Scientists say elephants are sufficiently cognitively complex that they use tools, cooperate to solve problems and communicate using a language of more than 70 distinct sounds. They also, of course, have shockingly impressive memories…

The zoo will rely in its defence on arguing that centuries of legal precedents have established that animals — no matter how intelligent — are, legally, ‘objects’ with no rights of their own. The zoo’s lawyers have also accused Wise and his organisation, whose board members include the British primatologist Jane Goodall, of exploiting Happy to advance a radical animal rights agenda that has been dismissed as not only dotty but also potentially very dangerous…

Elephants and chimps — so far the only animals Wise’s outfit has fought for — are just the tip of the iceberg, warn opponents… Critics, including U.S. farmers and ranchers, predict that removing Happy from the zoo and sending her to a 2,700-acre elephant sanctuary in Tennessee, will open the floodgates for radical animal rights activists to demand the release of every other animal incarcerated by mankind, potentially including farm animals and even pets. SOURCE…

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