happy elephant bronx zoo
Bronx Zoo elephant "Happy" feeds inside the zoo's Asia habitat. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
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New York’s highest court — the New York Court of Appeals — rejected by a 5-2 decision the anti-hunting group Nonhuman Rights Project’s (NhRP) lawsuit claiming Happy the Elephant isn’t an animal and instead had “personhood” rights and is being held by the Bronx Zoo against her will.

“While no one disputes the impressive capabilities of elephants, we reject petitioner’s arguments that it is entitled to seek the remedy of habeas corpus on Happy’s behalf,” Chief Judge Janet DiFiore wrote. “Habeas corpus is a procedural vehicle intended to secure the liberty rights of human beings who are unlawfully restrained, not nonhuman animals.”

The court’s decision was the most recent rejection of the anti-hunting group’s attempt to assign personhood to animals.

Hunting & Conservation

Judge Rowan Wilson wrote in a dissenting opinion that the court had a duty “to recognize Happy’s right to petition for her liberty,” not just because “she is a wild animal who is not meant to be caged and displayed, but because the rights we confer on others define who we are as a society.”

Bronx Zoo Elephant-Lawsuit
Bronx Zoo elephant “Happy” strolls inside the zoo’s Asia display. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

The court’s majority, of course, disagreed. People uniquely have rights in America. This is why the case mattered for the hunting, conservation, wildlife management and animal agriculture communities.

Judges appeared irritated when they first heard the case last month before rendering their decision. Judge Jenny Rivera questioned the Nonhuman Rights Project, Inc. (NhRP) attorneys, asking, “If Happy is a person, does that mean that I couldn’t keep a dog? I mean, dogs can memorize words.”

If the court decided Happy did indeed possess personhood rights, the floodgate would open for future lawsuits against other zoos. Animal rights groups could sue dairy cow or meat processing operations, pig farms, or chicken or pheasant preserves. The New York Farm Bureau even submitted an amicus brief in favor of the Bronx Zoo warning that a ruling in NhRP’s favor could be disastrous. “Worse, if any of those habeas petitions succeed in securing the release or transfer of livestock… the downstream effects also would be serious.”

That would also be an obstacle to hunters harvesting wild game for their freezers and wildlife management biologists that rely on hunting as a wildlife conservation management tool.

Long Road

Happy came to the Bronx Zoo in 1977. Happy is a 50-year-old elephant in the care of zookeepers, well-fed, bathed and watched over. Happy even has a social life with visitors and other elephants.


That didn’t stop NhRP from bringing Happy’s case to court in 2018. “She’s a depressed, screwed-up elephant,” said NhRP’s founder. The group wasted the court’s time and resources with junk lawsuits in 2018 and 2020, both times the court rejecting their claims. This final stage was set when an appellate court agreed with the ruling of a lower court, which brought the case to the New York Court of Appeals. Happy has remained at the Bronx Zoo this entire time.

NhRP would be wise to take the loss and stop there. The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation demonstrates that when a society puts intrinsic value on wildlife, those species prosper. NhRP’s goal wasn’t to free Happy. It was to force a radical anti-hunting agenda by judicial precedent that would disenfranchise hunters – the original conservationists.


Larry Keane is SVP for Government and Public Affairs, Assistant Secretary and General Counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

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  1. I’m a hunter. But I’m against the hunting of elephants except for some very narrow and specific reasons.

    But in no fever dream would I consider an elephant or any other animal equal to a human. Nor better as some of the broken individuals commenting here have proclaimed.

    There are a specific few animals I am opposed to hunting so I do not. I do not campaign to have these animals protected nor do I vote that way.

    I do not oppose legal hunting in any way.

  2. It amazes me that organizations such as NhRP can find enough like minded people willing to donate enough money to mount a legal attack that is so blatantly crazy.
    What’s even more disturbing is that the courts didn’t dismiss this case out of hand let alone allow it to be furthered on appeal.

    • People seriously believe the earth is flat. And some idiots even did tests, documented it, and their jaws dropped every single time the tests proved their theory wrong… but they are still flat earthers. It’s like religion. Somehow the biggest organization of them all with the most hypocrisies and inaccuracies, and how many people across the world pray to some form of sky daddy/mommy?
      Idiocracy indeed.

  3. We should all be terrified that two judges agreed with these fu- …people… and for either legal or personal reasons they wrote a dissenting opinion.

    • this is one of the two aspects of this case that are VERY scary. The other is that the courts actually TOOK IT UP and dealt with it as a serious matter. The PROPER course of action would have been a unanimous declaretion of summery judgement with a finding that the elephant is NOT a person. THEN find that the moving party MUST pay all legal costs including all court fees, etc.

  4. Wait….really???? Two judges out of seven wanted to confer on elephants the same rights as human beings? They wanted to blur the distinction between elephants and humans? What would be next? LGBTQ rights for elephants? Elephants competing in the human Olympics? Mixed juries of elephants and humans? Elephant-leaning curriculum in our public schools? Drag-queen elephant story-time at the public library?

    We share the planet with animals (leftists) and with wildlife and domesticated species. Kindness, respect, and conservation should be our moral/ethical starting point, but that does not mean ignoring reality, it does not mean joining the bizzaro-world delusions of the left. Some of us have to stay sane to keep the planet spinning and the moon from wandering off.

    We make an exception for possum because…..
    well, he is possum.

    • Life. I normally agree with you in all respects. And maybe I’ve simply misunderstood your comment.

      Are you suggesting that possum is less than sane?

      • JWM,

        Not at all…simply that possum is one member of the wildlife community to who all human rights apply.

        Re-reading my above comment, I can see it was poorly worded. Thanks for catching that.

        Possum, no offense intended!!

        • “Possum, no offense intended!!”

          It’s hard to offend a critter that thinks heaven is his snout buried in a pile of decomposing roadkill… 🙂

        • You mean it isn’t? Well if I dont know what a full belly full of warm food is then I guess I dont know heaven.

      • Being sane does not mean you are human, there are many humans that are insane or on the fence.
        While I really have no opinion on Possum and sanity, there are a few others here at the watering hole that I would question……..

    • Next up, tax dollars eing stolen to fund “gender affirming” surgery on the elephant wo surely wishes to be the gender it is not.
      Ya think I’m barmy? Go and read where THIS charade is heading.

    • For fuxake SlimyLimey, you have now managed to even bullox the name of one of your own beloved English author/ illustrators,
      BEATRIX Potter… Egads, I do say you’ve again gotten your tallywacker caught in the ole zipper !

  5. Happy, if she could communicate with her other elephants in the wild, would probably elect to stay in the zoo. No one is going to poach her, no predator animal is going to watch for her to become weak or injured to bring her down to eat her while she is still alive.

    Happy has it pretty good. Those mentally challenged people didn’t think of that.

    • Can spend the entire watching moronic New Yorker idiot (redundant) hive dwellers walk by right outside of her home. Just needs popcorn.

  6. ““She’s a depressed, screwed-up elephant,” said NhRP’s founder.”

    Pretty much like every Leftist Scum ™ then?

    “NhRP would be wise to take the loss and stop there.”

    Hell, no. They will use the same model they used to sue cigarette companies. Keep right on suing, until a Marxist Leftist Scum ™ ‘judge’ rules in their favor, creating precedent.

    In some ways, I’m kinda glad I won’t live long enough to see what they will turn this once-great county into… 🙁

    • Ahh com on man, your going to live at least two more years aint cha.
      Look how much progress theBiden has made already.
      Two more years,yeah buddy.

  7. No shit. An animal that humans have eaten for eons is not human. Well, at least those humans weren’t cannibals.

  8. pb 59, I verbally spoke to Possum a couple of days ago. He was alive and well. Being a Possum is a full time job. Sometimes he’s busy. He has an open invitation to come to Florida any time. I’m always looking forward to it and have doubt I will shake his paw soon.

  9. The part about the judge asking if they also consider dogs people is, to me, more or less representative of the divide between people on several contested issues in the US, including gun rights vs gun control. We’re coming from two positions so far apart that we can’t even agree on the language. It’s fish and birds arguing about if it’s better to be in the water or in the air.

      • Yeah, and birds don’t need to carry guns. They are very effective using their well-practiced bombing techniques, and carrying guns would just slow them down.
        Happy Father’s Day to all that qualify.

  10. I think that when they realized how absurd it was to have an animal with a long tube coming out of the middle of its face, they created men.

  11. remember watching them put to work raising the big top…the last time they used it…powerful animal…

  12. Did they hire an elephant psychiatrist to diagnose the critters mental state? Or did the just Disney it?


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