No, Happy the elephant is not a person, says New York’s highest court
New York (AFP) – As smart as she is, Happy the elephant does not meet the definition of a “person” and therefore is not unlawfully confined to the Bronx Zoo, New York’s highest court ruled in a closely watched case on Tuesday. for animal rights.
The state Court of Appeals’ 5-2 verdict against the habeas corpus suit filed by the Nonhuman Rights Project (NRP) means Happy will remain in her one-acre lot, where she has lived for 45 years, rather than moving to a much larger sanctuary. .
The NRP had argued that the Asian elephant, born in the wild in 1971, is an “extraordinarily complex and cognitively autonomous non-human” who should be “recognized as a legal person with the right to bodily liberty protected by the common law”.
It was the latest legal defeat for the organization, which had previously filed similar petitions on behalf of other elephants as well as chimpanzees across the United States.
The majority decision, written by Chief Justice Janet DiFiore, acknowledged that “no one disputes that elephants are intelligent beings deserving of proper care and compassion.”
But she upheld the rulings of the lower courts that had previously heard the case, writing: “Because the writ of habeas corpus is intended to protect the liberty right of human beings to be free from unlawful detention, it does not apply to Happy, a non-human animal who is not a “person” subject to unlawful confinement.”
“Granting legal personality to a non-human animal in this manner would have significant implications for human-animal interactions in all facets of life, including the risk of disruption of property rights, agricultural industry (among others) and medical research efforts,” DiFiore added.
If such relief were given to elephants, “What about dolphins – or dogs? What about cows, pigs or chickens – species routinely confined under far more restrictive conditions than the ‘Bronx Zoo Elephant Enclosure?’
Reacting to the news, the NRP praised the two dissenting justices and said their opinions, along with the fact that the case had been heard by New York’s highest court, represented hope for the case moving forward. .
Judge Rowan Wilson wrote: “When the majority answer, ‘No, animals can’t have rights’, I worry about that animal, but I worry even more about how that answer denies and denigrates the human capacity for understanding, empathy and compassion.”
Wilson recalled the case of Ota Benga, a member of the Mbuti pygmy people who was abducted from Africa and exhibited at the Bronx Zoo in 1906, attracting a quarter of a million visitors.
Wilson said that while Benga was a human being and Happy was not, “the crux of Mr. Benga’s and Happy’s confinement…is that both of them suffered greatly from confinement which, although it violates no statutory law, has produced little or no social benefit.”
DiFiore countered that it was “an odious comparison with disturbing implications,” adding, “We’re not convinced.”
She concluded by noting that the enormous interest in the case was “a testament to the complicated and ever-changing relationship between human beings and other animals”, but stressed that the ongoing debate should be settled by legislation, not by the courts.
© 2022 AFP