happy elephant bronx zoo
Bronx Zoo elephant "Happy" feeds inside the zoo's Asia habitat. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
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By Larry Keane

For the love of Charles Darwin, animal rights activists are at it again.

Lawyers for the Asian elephant “Happy” gave the 47-year-old pachyderm her day in court, alleging the Bronx Zoo is “illegally” detaining the animal because – we can’t make this up – the animal is actually a person. So the question naturally follows…what in the Ace Ventura: Pet Detective are these people thinking?

Turns out, a whole lot more than one might think, and hunters shouldn’t dismiss their antics as just another crackpot clogging up the courts. The elephant’s legal team (that’s right) is led by Steven Wise, the founder and lead attorney of the Nonhuman Rights Project, which argues that elephants are “extraordinarily complex creatures” and should be afforded the same rights as people.

Elephant in the Room

Here’s what’s got Wise’s trunk in knots. He alleges that Happy can recognize herself in mirrors and the elephant’s situation is similar to the shameful act of slavery because she’s enclosed in a one-acre enclosure in the Bronx Zoo, the same one featured in the Animal Planet’s TV show, The Zoo.”

Elephants are herd animals with a defined social structure, but Happy lives alone. But that’s not because zookeepers are cruel. It’s because two other elephants attacked and killed Happy’s companion, “Grumpy.” Happy was separated from the two aggressive elephants, Maxine and Patty for her own safety. Happy can still interact and touch other elephants, but a barrier exists for her own safety.

Wise, and the Nonhuman Rights Project, says Happy must be released to a California sanctuary, but the judge was skeptical. “Wouldn’t that just be like a larger prison?” asked Bronx supreme court Judge Alison Tuitt. The judge also said she saw a television show where a lemur attacked its own image in a mirror.

“That’s a bit like saying the Earth is a prison,” Wise replied. Wise said if the judge saw the elephant, she would see the elephant is depressed. The judge responded, “Perhaps we will all go see Happy.”

Caging Hunting

This case has larger impacts than just the conservation and studies that happen at zoos. Wise isn’t just trying to break one animal free, he’s trying to usher in a wild world of animal rights that threatens hunters.

Wise bantered with Judge Tuitt about dogs’ “personhood” rights too. He’s argued that breeding dogs have “bodily rights,” and breeding them would be illegal. Under that theory, using hunting dogs would constitute animal slavery. Harvesting game would be tantamount to murder.

Steven Wise, president of the Nonhuman Rights Project, left, present his arguments in Manhattan State Supreme Court, in New York, Wednesday, May 27, 2015. Lawyers for two chimpanzees went to court to argue that the animals have “personhood” rights and should be freed from the Long Island university where they are kept. Listening are Natalie Prosin, executive director of the Nonhuman Rights Project, and Assistant Attorney General Christopher Coulston, right. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, Pool)

It might sound far-fetched, but this isn’t thoughtless humor. Wise has tried this before and failed. He argued two chimpanzees, Kiko and Tommy, were illegally detained for the same reasons as Happy the elephant. In 2017, a New York appeals court rejected that argument.

Just a couple months ago, a Connecticut appeals court denied Wise’s arguments in a similar case for three elephants at that state’s Litchfield Zoo. Wise pointed out, though, where he’s failed, others have gained traction. A New Zealand river was granted human rights in 2017 and a Colombian court granted “personhood” to part of the Amazon rain forest.

However, Wise has yet to answer questions over legal consequences, under his theory, of when one wild animal takes another, which is the natural order. It should follow that we could expect Wise to sue the lion for wrongful death, loss of life and murder of the wildebeest.

Wise and the Nonhuman Rights Project will be back in front of the judge in January, trying to turn our zoos into a thing of the past and our courts into zoos.


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

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    • Some animals are highly intelligent but people will kill them anyway because there is no recourse. A lot are banned from medical experimentation in all but the shit holes of the world like China, Germany, Mexico, etc. As for Elephants, keep em in the wild or on a large preserve, people will book tours if they really wana see them.

    • I think its more like acknowledging that there is a point when an animal has a enough intellectual capacity and social development that it should be considered to have higher a order of sentience. Its not human, but its capacity to think puts it above common animal behaviors and there is actually ‘someone’ there.

      Maybe being more open to the concept that intelligence isn’t exclusive to mankind is a side effect from growing up being taught that animals aren’t people, they are dumb, can’t think, don’t have emotions, they can’t communicate, ( even dogs ), have no mind at all, and are nothing but property. People should always be “first”, even when it causes the extinction of a species. Then I figured out I had been lied to from day one and everything I was taught was complete bullshit.

      Just remember, there was a time when black people were commonly accepted to be animals as well. Some civilizations essentially called them farming implements that talked. We know better now, but there is still work to do.

      • “People should always be “first”, even when it causes the extinction of a species.”
        You’ve got this right at least. Species go extinct all the time. Statistically speaking, all species that ever lived on this planet are extinct with few exceptions.

        I don’t understand human quislings who go crazy about how beautiful and natural beaver dam, built by beavers to serve beaver purposes is, but when humans build a dam for human purposes, it is evil, environment destroying eyesore.
        I’m a human and I play for team humanity. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t treat animals…well, humanely. But they are not persons.

    • No, elephants are a subset of the set ‘people’. I want to know why Happy doesn’t pay taxes, and if he can own an elephant gun. I think he could handle a double kodiac..

  1. I’m not shocked by this BS…weirdos get more excited by a new dog than a new baby. Sentient crazy beings get to live on the streets because “right’s”. Whatever happens with critter’s is anyone’s guess…do plants feel “pain”?!?😖

    • Yet these same groups who cry over that elephant have no qualms about human infanticide when the child is inside its mother. Elephants are human but a human baby is not human.

    • Yes, Former Water Walker, plants indeed do feel plant.
      Only backward and unenlightened humans would deny that life sense pain. You should hear the screams of agony when I crunch down broccoli. You should hear the yard grass yell in pure unrelenting pain as my mower cuts it down in its youth, chlorophyll blood splashing around underneath the spinning wheel blade of plantacide.

      Gotta go, time to throw some cow flesh on the grill.

  2. Just your typical lunatic fringe democrat liberal. They should not be roaming around without a collar on!

    • A deadly epidemic of epic proportions and where is the CDC?
      Maybe they should start adding haloperidol to the water.

  3. Was this the same guy who tried to say that an ape (I think it was an orangutan) was entitled to compensation when hie/her photo was published? That one didn’t go very far either. I have a vague recollection that that was an LA based case.

  4. The National Socialist leader Adolf Hitler was also an animal lover. He was a vegetarian. He did not drink alcohol. Nor did he smoke cigarettes.

    He supported passing laws making it illegal to use animals in medical testing or testing of any kind.

    But he did make sure that human beings were used in all types of experiments in Germany in the 1930s and 40s.

    Today’s animal lovers are very much like Adolf Hitler. They are not at the point of executing humans in gas Chambers. But we’ll see what happens in the near future.

    There’s a lot of terrible things that happened to human beings in Germany long before the gas Chambers came around.

    • But they are not above killing humans in “Family Planning” clinics. I’m sure they are planning gas chambers or something like them for the rest of us.

      • Worried about aborted babies ? You shouldn’t be.
        Remember a multitude of Christian apologists claim all the infants slaughtered by the Hebrews in their wars against the pagans went to be with God after their deaths. God punished King David and Bathsheba by killing their illegitimate son. David rationalized the loss of his infant son in 2 Samuel 12:23b “Can I bring him back again ? I will go to him, but he will not return to me”.
        Clearly both the old and new testaments indicate that God himself exempts all infant deaths from accountability ( even up to the age of accountability ) and eternal damnation even though they are born a fallen creature.

        So why cry over abortion deaths at all when it guarantees the infant will spend eternity in the blissful presence of God ? Besides when it comes to guiding souls to heaven abortion doctors have a 100% success rate when compared to evangelists ( Matthew 7:14 “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Also Luke 13:23-25, Matthew 7:21-23 )

        Apparently the bottom line ( according to Jesus in Mark 8:36 ) is this: “For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and loses his own soul ?” You anti abortion Christians are obviously focusing on short term loss and ignoring the big picture. Eternity.

        • God’s own rules,

          Ending a human life is strictly God’s purview. God and God alone defines the limited and extreme circumstances when humans can/should end another human’s life. Killing a baby in the womb is not one of those limited/extreme circumstances.

        • Anything God commands is by definition “good” isn’t it ? No matter what it is. So the rejection of infanticide in Christianity is not based upon an immutable standard of right and wrong. It merely depends upon who is giving the orders. It is not about ethics it is simply obedience to authority.

          You are mistaken if you believe the unborn are exempted from God’s wrath. Hosea 13:16 ” The people of Samaria must bear their guilt, because they have rebelled against their God. They will fall by the sword; their little ones will be dashed to the ground, THEIR PREGNANT WOMEN RIPPED OPEN.”

        • @God’s Own Rules:
          “The people of Samaria must bear their guilt, because they have rebelled against their God. They will fall by the sword; their little ones will be dashed to the ground, THEIR PREGNANT WOMEN RIPPED OPEN.”

          That sounds like someone who was trying to justify genocide by calling in God as an accomplice. I can’t quote chapter and verse, but I think it was Jesus Christ who said, “Beware of false prophets.” I say, be wary of any man who claims to speak for God EVEN IN THE BIBLE. Over millennia good people have understood that abortion is a crime.

        • Because those children are condemned to wallowing in purgatory unless they somehow happened to have been baptized before death.

      • Wow Dave, you have the god-given gift of bending truth and logic beyond the breaking point. Good job. 👍

        • @God’s own rules:
          “Wow Dave, you have the god-given gift of bending truth and logic beyond the breaking point. Good job.”

          As the old saying goes, “You’re putting me on.”

          I was going to give you a pass on that, since I was only stating my OPINION and not trying to launch some kind of logical argument in this forum of OPINIONS. But I have come to think that a reply is called for here. So, here goes:

          1. “That sounds like someone who was trying to justify genocide by calling in God as an accomplice.”
          I’m not a biblical scholar, but my kneejerk reaction to your quote of Hosea 13:16 is that it was an instance of religious persecution of the most heinous variety. Like I said, genocide. I’m not speaking for God, but I don’t think he ordered it. What God did ordain is free will for men to do as they please, whether good or evil, or so I’ve been told.

          2. “I can’t quote chapter and verse, but I think it was Jesus Christ who said, “Beware of false prophets.” I say, be wary of any man who claims to speak for God EVEN IN THE BIBLE.”
          I don’t know about you, but I don’t speak for God, nor do I believe that everything in the Bible is the inspired word of God. But I do think that anybody who claims to speak for God should be taken with a gigantic grain of salt. Nevertheless, I also believe that mankind has developed a moral code over the millennia based on common sense more than anything else. Moral codes vary from place to place, but all cultures seem to have one. In that regard, I am reminded about the story of Moses going up a mountain to get the Ten Commandments from God IN SECRET. If God really was dictating the Ten Commandments, why did he have to do it in secret?

          3. “Over millennia good people have understood that abortion is a crime.”
          You can argue with that if you wish, but that happens to be my OPINION. What I had in mind when I wrote it is the Hippocratic Oath traditionally attributed to the physician Hippocrates (460–370 BC). The Hippocratic has been around in one form or another for more than 2000 years. The oldest version extent contains the following sentence: “Similarly I will not give to a woman a pessary to cause abortion.” (Translation is from the Greek by one W.H.S. Jones in Wikipedia, since my own Greek is nonexistent.) I also know that a lot of modern doctors swear an oath not containing those words, and I say shame on them.
          Well, I’m going to let it go at that; it’s my last word on the subject.

          Oh, and by the way:
          “Wrong Zen, God converted to Protestant Christianity in the 16th century.”
          Says who? Did God make some kind of an announcement?

        • Dave your loosey goosey interpretation of God’s written word would have probably gotten you burned at the stake as a heretic if you were living 500 years ago.
          Lastly God converting to Protestantism was a humorous dig at Zen Catholic since the 16th century was when Protestant doctrine were formed and they certainly don’t adhere to the belief in purgatory.
          Don’t overthink this stuff Dave, you just make yourself look stupid.

        • Hitler was also an atheist. So I’m not surprised that the non believers will bring up christianity as a distraction. Instead of dealing with the animals lovers who are nearly all atheists.

        • Fun fact Chris, the metal belt buckles worn by the Nazi Army were embossed with an eagle clutching a swastika and above it “Gott Mit Uns” which translates as “God With Us”.

          Also the Wehrmacht Oath of Loyalty to Adolph Hitler from August 1934 states:
          “I swear to God this sacred oath to the leader of the German Reich and people, Adolph Hitler, supreme commander of the armed forces I shall render unconditional obedience and that as a brave soldier I shall at all times be prepared to give my life for this oath.”

        • @God’s own rules:
          “Dave your loosey goosey interpretation of God’s written word would have probably gotten you burned at the stake as a heretic if you were living 500 years ago.”

          You’re probably right. Lucky for me that I didn’t live 500 years ago.

          “Lastly God converting to Protestantism was a humorous dig at Zen Catholic since the 16th century was when Protestant doctrine were formed and they certainly don’t adhere to the belief in purgatory.”

          I suppose that you didn’t notice that Zen Catholic was probably thinking of Limbo, which, by the way, is not an official Catholic doctrine. Also, I certainly cannot blame ZC for not further engaging in this exchange after being subjected to your “humorous dig.”

          “Don’t overthink this stuff Dave, you just make yourself look stupid.”

          Lastly, you just couldn’t resist ending your response by insulting me. I assure you, sir or madam, I am not stupid! And, being a gentleman, if not much of a Christian, I will refrain from returning your insult.

  5. So… animals have rights but babies don’t? Ok. I’m done with my dose of left wing insanity for the day.

  6. Let’s see…an animal is a person but an pre-born human is not??

    The insane are indeed running the asylum.

  7. I will accept this idea when the elephant speaks or writes out the complaint using a human language. Otherwise the court should bill them for time wasted

    Be kind to animals, even the ones I eat or hunt, yes. Are they people, No.

    • Unfortunately, the Elephants are much smarter than that, the hired lawyers to write out the complaint in human language.
      They say crows are pretty smart, I am getting my legal team prepared for the barrage of harassment civil suits that are likely to befall me.

      • Crows are extremely intelligent and will report the activities of humans being “not nice” for many many miles around them. If you feed them, they will return with gifts, if you chase them off, they will get their buddies together and pelt anything “important” like your truck, with pebbles.

        They can figure out puzzles, use tools, and definitely know where the MREs are in the dumpster. Damn dumpster chickens turned into little hulks.

      • I’ll also add that they may “watch over” their favorite people and may help in the retrieval of small but important objects but that is a single anecdotal account of someone.

      • I’d think sacrificing kids would just piss something off. If something demanded a sacrifice, it should expect the biggest, baddest predator animal, or a tribute of single combat between the two best warriors. Sacrificing a kid would just be insulting and a waste.

        • Not if it was your own child. Think of what that actual level of sacrafice shows to your diety of choice, as to your level of commitment to him/her/whatever. Sacrafice means giving up something important. That being said, I agree the 2 best warriors would sure be a better specticle. Or maybe some jello wrestling by the 2 best looking in the tribe.

        • Some people(s) pump kids out like a bullet press, its not a whole lot of extra effort to have the first or last one predesignated as a sacrifice. Before the days of wide spread birth control, families popped out kids at the whole sale rate, upwards of 5-10 over the course of several years. Culture will also indoctrinate you to be fairly detached from the one marked for sacrifice. I still stand by it being a pretty lousy sacrifice, if not demeaning to whatever you are worshiping. Big bad follower killed a baby, so impressed. . . heres a hail storm.

          Side note: The only families I see now with 5+ kids are ‘minorities’, essentially now the majority; everyone else is old and dying and I need to get out of Texas before it flat lines and turns blue.

  8. That’s how stupid the law makers are allowing foolishness like this to take up time that should have been used to deal with criminals no wonder our courts are so backed up,when a picture would have solved the case in less then a minute, person or animal, Done

  9. Animals are now people and let’s not forget, corporations are now people according to supposed conservative Justice Roberts. Even though a corporation by definition is a creation of the State. The lunacy continues.

    • So corporations are elephants. . . can I create an Elephant? My corporation identifies as Elephant!

      I joke. I think a lot of the problems with this arise when people equate “person” to “human”. I see my dog as a “person” but not as “human”, a corporation is a “person” only in so much that its members can determine the opinion of voice of the corporation as an entity/person, I.E, a corporation has the right to have an official opinion and also be secure in its papers, etc.

      My dog has an opinion, I usually ignore it unless hes growling or really wants something.

    • If you took a psychological profile of a corporation, it would almost the same as a human psychopath. Some less than ethical organizations I worked in staffed by those with even less personal ethics proved the point.

  10. This is exactly why America needs a penalty for frivolous law suits, only reason we already don’t that is because the people that would put that into law are all lawyers, (congress & senate), loser pays laws will stop all this crap.

  11. Someone should point out to this idiot that it’s humans debating the rights of elephants rather than elephants debating the rights of humans.

  12. When animals are considered human then we all will be mandated as vegans by law. Just another step in the process of control.

    • something I always liked to point out to cat lovers…if you were the size of your cat…and your cat was the size of you…you’d be lunch….

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