Albion, N.Y. (WHAM) - In a State Supreme Court in Orleans County Friday, an animal rights group sought legal rights for Happy, a 47-year-old Asian elephant at the Bronx Zoo.
The Nonhuman Rights Project argued Happy should have the same rights as a person and wants the elephant moved to a sanctuary.
The group filed a habeas corpus petition in Orleans County because it believes judges upstate are more favorable to the argument that some animals have similar legal rights as people. They said an appellate court judge in the past has expressed support for nonhuman entities such as animals.
Nonhuman Rights Project President Steven Wise said Happy is being unlawfully imprisoned in the Bronx Zoo.
“We think Happy is living within an acre of land,” Wise said. “She’s living on a postage stamp piece of land that is not appropriate for an elephant.
For more than a decade, NhRP said Happy has been living alone. Her companion Grumpy died in 2002 after two other elephants charged at him; he died from his injuries. Happy then was given another partner, Sammy, who died in 2006.
Wise wants Happy freed.
“Happy is an autonomous being and she can choose how to live her life,” said Wise.
Phillips Lytle is the law firm representing the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which owns the Bronx Zoo. Attorney Ken Manning said Happy likes her home.
“She’s been at the Bronx Zoo for 40 of those 47 years and she’s comfortable there,” Manning said. “We’ve got three affidavits from the Bronx Zoo, a veterinarian and people with biology backgrounds, indicating the good care and treatment afforded Happy, and we contend Happy is happy where she is.”
WCS said Happy can touch, hear and smell the two other elephants through large holes in a metal divider. The barrier keeps them from hurting one another.
Leslie Rule drove to the courthouse from the Northeast Kingdom in Vermont to support transferring Happy to a sanctuary.
“A lot of zoos are moving toward sanctuary status, because they realize the old model of a zoo with animals behind a cage, or on a small piece of land is not an environment in which an animal should be living," Rule said.
State Supreme Court Justice Tracey Bannister said this was the most unusual case she has ever presided over. Ultimately, she decided that the case should not be heard in Orleans County, but rather Bronx County, because of the proximity for everyone involved.
The Nonhuman Rights Project can appeal the judge's decision or take the case to another court.