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DARED TO BE FREE: Happy the elephant denied personhood by New York Court, to stay at Bronx Zoo

Granting freedom to Happy would have 'an enormous destabilizing impact on modern society' and could generate a 'flood' of petitions to free animals, perhaps including pets and service animals.

LUC COHEN: Happy the elephant will stay at the Bronx Zoo after New York state’s highest court on Tuesday ruled against an animal rights group that said she deserved some of the same rights as humans and should be freed. In a 5-2 decision, the Albany-based Court of Appeals said the writ of habeas corpus, which allows people to be released from illegal custody, did not apply to Happy despite claims that the 51-year-old elephant shared many of the same cognitive abilities as humans…

“While no one disputes that elephants are intelligent beings deserving of proper care and compassion,” Chief Judge Janet DiFiore wrote, “Happy, as a nonhuman animal, does not have a legally cognizable right to be at liberty under New York law.” DiFiore also said granting freedom to Happy would have “an enormous destabilizing impact on modern society” and could generate a “flood” of petitions to free animals, perhaps including pets and service animals. She said it should be up to the legislature to decide whether to grant nonhuman animals the same legal rights as people. SOURCE…

NhRP Statement on New York Court of Appeals Decision in Historic Elephant Rights Case:

LAUREN CHOPLIN: We applaud the powerful dissents by the Honorable Judges Jenny Rivera and Rowan D. Wilson, which we see as a tremendous victory in a national and global struggle for nonhuman animal rights which we’ve only just begun.

They follow similarly supportive arguments made by the Honorable Judge Eugene M. Fahey in our chimpanzee rights cases before he retired from the Court in January of 2022. Judges Rivera, Wilson, and Fahey join a growing body of judges from around the world who are considering and recognizing nonhuman animals as rights-holders, and we look forward to citing these dissents in our elephant rights case already underway in California and in the new cases we’ll file across the US and in other countries in the coming months. We have persuaded three judges on New York’s highest court since 2018; we know we’ll persuade more.

At the same time, this is not just a loss for Happy, whose freedom was at stake in this case and who remains imprisoned in a Bronx Zoo exhibit. It’s also a loss for everyone who cares about upholding and strengthening our most cherished values and principles of justice–autonomy, liberty, equality, and fairness–and ensuring our legal system is free of arbitrary reasoning and that no one is denied basic rights simply because of who they are.

As Justice Wilson wrote, “When the majority answers, “No, animals cannot have rights,” I worry for that animal, but I worry even more greatly about how that answer denies and denigrates the human capacity for understanding, empathy and compassion.”

With the support of diverse, renowned experts in law, philosophy, religion, elephant cognition, social justice, and more, we sought Happy’s legal personhood and right to liberty under New York common law, which is judge-made law that’s meant to evolve with the times. We lament that the Court chose not to do its clear common law duty in this case by bringing Happy’s legal status into the 21st century. In this respect, the majority of the Court appears to be out of touch with the times and has demonstrated a deep misunderstanding of what Happy’s case is about.

The fact remains that Happy deserves to live freely and with peace and dignity in the vastly larger, more natural environment of a sanctuary designed to respect elephant autonomy. Judge Rivera is right when she wrote in her dissent that “a gilded cage is still a cage. Happy may be a dignified creature, but there is nothing dignified about her captivity.” That’s why we’ll continue our grassroots campaign for her release at the same time as we consider our legal options and next steps in New York. We’ll provide further analysis of the decision and dissents in the coming days. SOURCE…


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