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World First: Elephant Receives Habeas Corpus Order

By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. on November 21, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Congratulations to Happy the elephant for being the first pachyderm to receive a habeas corpus order.

In case you've only heard about a writ of habeas corpus on television, it's a fancy Latin term lawyers use to say that if you want to detain someone, like imprison them, the person has to be brought before the court and formally charged. Habeas corpus has never been successfully used to free an animal from a zoo, but that could soon change. Justice Tracey Bannister of the Supreme Court of New York for Orleans County issued an order for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of Happy the Elephant against the Bronx Zoo, where she is currently being held captive, for lack of a better word. Happy will indeed have her day in court!

Treatment of Elephant is Inhumane

The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) asserts that Happy is being held captive against her will and should be freed. She has been a fixture at the Bronx Zoo since 1977, when, at the age of six, she arrived with six other captured calves, each named after a dwarf from Snow White. Happy is a very social being by nature, and has had to endure the death of many of her co-habitating companions. She has lived alone since 2006, has had her autonomy "thwarted," and lives on a postage stamp of a parcel compared to what would be her territory in the wild.

Nonhuman Rights Project Wants Elephant to Be Happy and Free

According to the Nonhuman Rights Project, Happy is the first elephant to pass the mirror self-recognition test. As such, the group contends that Happy has such high cognitive abilities that she should not be caged. In case you are wondering what cognitive abilities has to do with anything, a New York court had previously mentioned that animals, though not humans, are more than just things, especially if they have cognitive abilities, and may be entitled to some judicial rights.

Bronx Zoo Claims NhRP Just Using Happy for Own Agenda

But the Bronx Zoo says that Happy shows "no signs of physiological or psychological stress," and has bonds with her caretakers. They contend she is hardly a prisoner. Bronx Zoo Director Jim Breheny asserts that, "The Nonhuman Rights Project is exploiting the Bronx Zoo elephants to advance their own failing cause in the courts as they put forth ludicrous legal arguments and lies about our elephants, facilities and staff."

Oral arguments in front of Justice Bannister are scheduled for December 14th.

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