ALBANY, NY ( Associated Press) — She has four limbs, expressive eyes and loves to stroll through the greenery in New York City. Happy, by species, is an Asian elephant. But can he also be considered a person?
The question was before the Supreme Court of New York on Wednesday in a closely watched case whether a basic human right can be extended to an animal.
Advocates of the Inhuman Rights Project say yes: Happy is an autonomous, cognitively complex elephant that deserves a right protected in law for “one person.” The Bronx Zoo, where Happy lives, says no: through a lawyer, the zoo argues that Happy is neither illegally imprisoned nor a person, but a well-cared-for elephant”. Honored as a splendid creature.”
Happy has lived at the Bronx Zoo for 45 years. The State Court of Appeals heard arguments on whether he should be released through habeas corpus proceedings, a way for people to challenge illegal imprisonment.
The Inhuman Rights Project wants her to be moved from a “one-acre prison” in the zoo to a more sprawling sanctuary.
Project attorney Monica Miller told the Associated Press before the oral arguments, “She’s interested in exercising her choices and deciding who she wants to be with, and where to go, and what to do, and what to eat.” ” “And the zoo is preventing him from making any of those choices himself.”
The group said that in 2005, Happy became the first elephant to pass a self-awareness indicator test, repeatedly looking into a large mirror while touching a white “X” on its forehead.
The zoo and its supporters have warned that a victory for advocates in the Inhuman Rights Project could open the door to more legal actions on behalf of animals, including pets and other species, in zoos.
“If there is a complete rewrite and grant of rights to animals that they never had before, shouldn’t it be done by the legislature?” Kenneth Manning, attorney for the zoo operator’s Wildlife Conservation Society, asked the judges.
Happy was born in the wild in Asia in the early 1970s, captured and brought to the United States at the age of 1, where he was eventually cast as one of the characters in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. was nominated. Happy arrived at the Bronx Zoo in 1977 with fellow elephant Grumpy, who was seriously injured in a 2002 collision with two other elephants.
Happy now lives in an enclosure next to Patty, another elephant in the zoo. The zoo’s attorney argued in the court filing that Happy can swim, feed, and have natural behavior for elephants.
The zoo said in a prepared statement, “The gross exploitation of Happy the Elephant by the NRP to further its coordinated agenda shows no concern for the individual animal and reveals the fact that they are responsible for Happy’s health and psychological well-being.” ready to give up.” ,
NRP’s lawyers say Happy’s right to “physical liberty” is being violated no matter how he is treated at the zoo. They argue that if the court recognizes Happy’s right to that liberty under habeas corpus, she would be a “person” for that purpose. And then he should be released.
The judges answered sharp questions to the lawyers of both the sides during the oral arguments. Judge Jenny Rivera asked Miller about the effects of the NRP position on human-animal relationships.
“So does that mean I can’t have a dog?” Rivera asked. “I mean, dogs can remember words.”
Miller said there is still more evidence that elephants are exceptionally cognitively complex with advanced analytical abilities.
Lower courts have ruled against NRP. And the group has failed to prevail in similar cases, involving a chimpanzee in upstate New York named Tommy.
But last October, at the urging of a separate animal rights group, a federal judge ruled that Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar’s infamous “cocaine hippos” could be identified as people with legal rights or “interested persons” in the US. Is. Implications for the hippos themselves, given that they live in Colombia.
Opponents expect the NRP’s court defeat streak to continue with the high-profile New York court.
The New York Farm Bureau and other agriculture groups said in a court-of-court briefing that the NRP’s “new theory of personality” would wipe out pigs, cows and chickens. The National Association for Biomedical Research said authorizing such petitions on behalf of animals could increase the cost of conducting important research. State and national associations representing veterinarians put out a brief stating that the NRP lawsuit promotes the individuality rights of animals above the welfare of animals.
Supporters of the NRP’s action include public figures such as Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Tribe. Many of them see this case as an opportunity for society to take a step forward in the ethical behavior of animals.
“We believe this legal moment for Happy represents an important cultural crossroads to think more openly and honestly – and less selfishly – about what it would mean to treat non-human animals with ethical seriousness.” ,” reads a brief presented Catholic academic theologian.
The court’s decision is expected in the coming months.
At least one animal rights advocate suggests that a single court ruling will not change society’s view of the use of animals. Rutgers Law School professor Gary Francione, who is not involved in the case, said it would require a broad cultural shift.
“I’ve been a vegetarian for 40 years. Don’t get me wrong, I completely disagree with the use of animals,” Francione said. “Just the court starting to say that non-human animals are persons under the law is going to raise all kinds of questions, the answers of which will be unanswerable to many.”