MICHAEL HILL – Associated Press

Albany, NY (AP) – She has four limbs, clear eyes and she loves to walk on the greenery in New York. Happy, by species, Asian elephant. But is she also a person?

This is a question before the New York Supreme Court on Wednesday in a closely monitored case on whether the basic human right to an animal can be extended.

Her defenders in the Nonhuman Rights Project say: Happy – an autonomous, cognitively complex elephant, worthy of the right reserved in law for the “person”. At the Bronx Zoo, where Happy lives, they deny: through a lawyer, the zoo claims that Happy is not a prisoner or a man, but a well-groomed elephant who is “respected as a wonderful creature.”

Happy has lived at the Bronx Zoo for 45 years. The state appeals court is hearing arguments as to whether she should be released under the habeas corpus procedure, which is a way for people to challenge illegal detention.

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The Nonhuman Rights Project wants her transferred from a “one-hectare prison” at the zoo to a more spacious shelter.

“She is interested in making her choice and deciding who she wants to be with, where to go, what to do and what to eat,” project lawyer Monica Miller told the Associated Press. “And the zoo forbids her to make any of these choices on her own.”

The group said that in 2005, Happy became the first elephant to be tested for self-awareness, repeatedly touching the white “X” on his forehead when looking in a large mirror.

The zoo and its supporters warn that defending defenders could open the door to more legal action on behalf of animals, including pets and other species in zoos.

“If courts comply with the NRP’s requirement to give animals an identity for habeas corpus, elephants, and other animals in every modern zoo in that country, they will need to be released or transferred to an NRP institution of choice,” said Kenneth Manning, a lawyer for the Wildlife Conservation Society’s zoo operator. nature, writes in the court material.

Happy was born in the wild in Asia in the early 1970s, was captured and redeemed at the age of 1 in the United States, where she was eventually named after one of the characters from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Happy arrived at the Bronx Zoo in 1977 along with Grampy’s elephant, which was mortally wounded in 2002 during a confrontation with two other elephants.

Happy now lives in an aviary next to another zoo elephant, Patty. A zoo lawyer argued in court documents that Happy could swim, forage and engage in other behaviors natural to elephants.

“The NRP’s outrageous exploitation of Happy Elephant to promote their coordinated program shows no concern for individual animals and shows that they are willing to sacrifice Happy’s health and psychological well-being to set a precedent,” the zoo said in a statement. .

NRP lawyers claim that no matter how Happy is treated at the zoo, her right to “physical freedom” is violated. They argue that if the court recognizes Happy’s right to this freedom under the habeas corpus, she will be the “person” for that purpose. And then she needs to be released.

The lower courts ruled against the NRP. And the group has failed to win in such cases, including involving a chimpanzee in upstate New York named Tommy.

But last October, at the urging of another animal rights group, a federal judge ruled that Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar’s infamous “cocaine behemoths” could be recognized as people or “stakeholders” with legal rights in the United States. branching out for the hippos themselves, given that they live in Colombia.

Opponents hope the NRP’s series of lawsuits will continue in a high-profile New York court.

A statement from a court member of the New York Farm Bureau and other agricultural groups said the NRP’s “new-fangled theory of personality” sweeps away pigs, cows and chickens. The National Association for Biomedical Research has said it allows such petitions to be filed. on behalf of animals may increase the cost of conducting critical research. State and national associations representing veterinarians filed a brief statement stating that the NRP lawsuit promotes animal rights above animal welfare.

Among the supporters of the NRP action are public figures such as Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Tribe. Many see the case as a chance for society to take a step forward in ethical treatment of animals.

“We believe that this legal moment for Happy is a key cultural crossroads for more open and honest thinking – and less selfishly – about what it would mean to treat the features of non-human animals with the moral seriousness it deserves.” Read by Catholic academic theologians.

A court decision is expected in the coming months.

At least one animal rights activist believes that the only court decision will not change society’s view on the use of animals. Rutgers law school professor Gary Francione, who is not involved in the case, said it would require a wider cultural shift.

“I have been a vegan for 40 years. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t agree with the use of animals at all, ”Francione said. “Just for the court to start saying that non-human animals are persons in accordance with the law, there will be a variety of questions that many people will not be able to get answers to.”

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