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

Thanksgiving next year could look completely different if the Nonhuman Rights Project Inc., an animal rights group, gets its way in a case pending before the New York’s Court of Appeals in 2022.

The animal rights group is suing – again – to extend human rights to animals. In this case, it is for Happy, an Asian elephant that’s been in the care of the Bronx Zoo. The case, though, could have far-reaching implications for hunting and conservation.

The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) is appealing a case that was dismissed by Bronx Supreme Court Judge Alison Tuitt in February 2020. NhRP alleges the Bronx Zoo is illegally detained Happy and the animal, as an “extraordinarily complex” creature, should have human rights.

That was the fifth time the group has lost a fight to claim legal personhood for animals. While elephants are said to have extraordinary memory capabilities, NhRP doesn’t. They are appealing a habeas corpus petition, a legal protection for imprisoned persons, arguing Happy the elephant has the same rights in the court as a person.

Jungle Rules

The case seems absurd, but it is one worth watching, especially by America’s original conservationists. That’s the men and women who hunt and are literally invested in perpetuating wildlife not just in North America, but around the globe. The case could have far-reaching effects if courts rule that animals are “persons” and are endowed with the same rights as humans. It might sound far-fetched, but to these extremist groups, it is a stepping stone to making a case to ban hunting altogether.

After all, if courts rule elephants are “persons” endowed with rights under the law, anti-hunting groups have the open door to stake a legal claim that hunting is tantamount to murder. Next year’s Thanksgiving Day turkey dinner could be termed a homicide.

Bronx Zoo Elephant-Lawsuit
Bronx Zoo elephant “Happy” strolls inside the zoo’s Asia display, Tuesday Oct. 2, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

The case centers on Happy, the 51-year-old elephant that has been cared for at the Bronx Zoo. Happy was originally paired with another elephant, Grumpy. That elephant was killed by two other elephants and since then Happy has been kept separate for her safety following a failed attempt to pair her with another elephant. Happy, however, is able to maintain physical contact through fencing with another elephant.

NhPR wants the court to grant its request to move Happy from the zoo to a sanctuary in Tennessee or California.

Hunting Concerns

The notion of assigning “personhood” rights to an elephant being cared for by professional biologists and zoologists at an accredited zoo might seem absurd but must be taken seriously by hunters and conservationists. NhRP’s founder and lead attorney Steven Wise teaches at Harvard University and previously argued that chimpanzees were “persons” too.

Duck hunt hunting dog labrador
Dan Z. for TTAG

Wise told a judge in a prior attempt that dogs have “personhood” too, as well as “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.

This is important to watch this case because extremist groups like NhRP ignore the contributions hunters and the firearm industry make to conservation. Don’t expect them to acknowledge that firearm and ammunition manufacturers have contributed over $14 billion to the conservation of wildlife and habitats since the Pittman-Robertson excise tax was implemented in 1937. That’s led to the recovery of game and non-game species at today’s healthy and sustainable levels.

None of that matters to NhRP or their extremist allies. They’re focused on a court win that would upend conservation – and hunting – forever.

If that happens, Thanksgiving next year might be a whole lot different.


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


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    • “See how that works out.”

      It seemed to work just fine for a girl and a Great Dane in a video I saw once… 🙁

      • Bears are armed, as many autopsies have confirmed the evidence of maulings.

        Claws are weapons…

        • …as opposed to lawyers where clause are their weapons…

          (apologies Geoff, you gave me the lead-in)

        • *Zero* need to apologize, I *snickered*… 😉

    • Trust me, if a cheetah could work the action on a Ruger Guide Gun, they’d be taking down Wildebeests right and left with them.

  1. As usual we have an ignorant T Tag contributor that knows no more about the subject at hand than he does about rocket science. His post is meant to inflame rather than educate, the lowest form of journalism.

    In reality there is fault on both sides of the equation. The far left often fire up the ignorant non hunting public into thinking that all hunters are nothing more than ignorant gun toting blood thirsty Neanderthals hell bent on killing Bamby the deer or trophy hunting without realizing that mankind has upset the balance of nature and as bloody and brutal as hunting is in the eyes of civilized people it is a necessary evil.

    On the other hand one does not have to lay waste to the country side with an assault rifle mowing down game animals if one wants to be out in the woods to enjoy nature. Neither should of course Liberals condemn all hunters as bloodthirsty game slobs either. When there is overpopulation of game it soon destroys its own habitat, and as repulsive as hunting is the taking of wild game is necessary because man has destroyed most of the dangerous carnivores that once roamed the wilds and killed humans as well.

    The vastly overpopulation of Humans on the planet fit this category as well. In the past wars, pestilence and disease kept human populations somewhat in check as well and now climate change will probably step in and eradicate the human race altogether. Nature always finds a way of causing the eventual extinction of all species.

    As far as zoos are concerned they have been in the past torture prisons for animals for years and some zoos have been improving the living conditions of animals in their care by letting them have more access to outdoor areas and treating them more humanly. It might also be said that if it were not for zoos providing breeding programs some species would not have been saved from extinction.

    I might add that in some populated areas in my neck of the woods hunting has been outlawed because of slob hunters who endangered home owners with wild shooting, shot and killed people on their way to work, trespassed on property and even shot peoples pets which forced the local governments to result to the use of government hunters to thin out herds of troublesome deer or wild pigs.

  2. Already doing this lunacy in Britain. While I believe animals should be treated humanly I know we have ”
    dominion” over them. I am a practicing PETA member: People Eating Tasty Animals😎

  3. One thing about pencil necked cartoon bubble heads, their areas of expertise knows no bounds. Take our resident buffoon. He’s a social engineer, climatologist, knows more about law enforcement than J. Edgar Hoover and now a wildlife biologist. Why hasn’t this guy won a Pulitzer and a Nobel Prize by now?

    • to Flag Waver

      Its called being a product of higher education, something you have obviously never experienced which puts it beyond your comprehension. Your sum myopic knowledge of the world has been acquired from myth, innuendo, bronze age mysticism, and a racist and prejudiced upbringing flavored and poisoned with a healthy dose of xenophobia.

      • That’s the reason for your amazingly shallow knowledge of everything – higher education! Now I understand. When you started to ramble about human over-population and climate catastrophe, I could clearly see the higher education dogma – no facts, not interested in facts, but unquestioning following of the “teachings” and spewing out of the key words – keep up your self-righteousness!

      • We are all to be in awe of his intellectual magnificence as exampled by his frequent displays of sesquipedalian loquaciousness.

        • @SC

          Good to hear from you.

          I originally read it as “…intellectual munificence…” and thought, “Yup, lil’d does have a Hx of gifting or bestowing upon us mere mortals his lavish and vast imagination in all things that affect the World.”

          lil’d thinks of himself in the following manner…

          “Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
          Like a Colossus, and we petty men
          Walk under his huge legs and peep about
          To find ourselves dishonourable graves.”

          (appreciation to Bill Shakespeare for his immortal words – Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene II)

      • @dacian

        If you’re soo smart why are you here? What is your motivation to waste time with people of lower educated gun enthusiasts?

        • I want to be reminded how lucky I was to go to college and avoid a life of ignorance, racism, bigotry, xenophobia, misogyny, bronze age mysticism, militarism, and savagery. I could go on but I am sure you get the picture.

  4. I bet the same morons have no problem with abortion

    If the morons win, which one of the 320 genders would they assign the elephant?

    • Gender reassignment consists of two options, not 320. Funny how the two options are never brought up in discussions. Either it’s female to male, or male to female.

      Me? I identify as a German Sheppard that speaks in Hangul…sometimes..with an accent. lol

  5. “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.” – Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

  6. “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” – Galileo Galilei

  7. Owning a dog is slavery? Let them free. They’ll have a happy and productive life running in packs all over our world.

    Dumping unwanted pets can be a crime. Now it will seem like an act of liberation.

    • hey, if the dog has “personhood” and the rights that go with it let them go out and get a job and bring home that paycheck to feed and house themselves, and pay their own bills cause Alpo and vets are not free.

      If a dog has “personhood” does that mean that can have an “emotional support or service” human go into restaurants with them?

    • My dog would think “Why would I want to leave? Free food, plenty of exercise, warm comfortable bed, a boss to look after. I have it all.”

  8. “They are appealing a habeas corpus petition, a legal protection for imprisoned persons, arguing Happy the elephant has the same rights in the court as a person.”

    Well, OK then, call ‘Happy’ to the stand to testify.

    Remember, at one time, it was thought absurd cigarettes cause cancer…

  9. I do believe there are some critters we should not be hunting or eating. But it ain’t about them having “Personhood”. It’s about not wanting them all wiped out entirely.

  10. So we can kill babies 5 minutes before birth, but can’t put animals in cages, let alone eat them. I get it. These people are why we should reopen mental asylums.

    • ” These people are why we should reopen mental asylums ”

      The asylum never really closed, and the inmates are now running it.

  11. Animals have personhood?
    While every animal has it’s own individuality its definitely not a person.
    A person is a human, while some humans want the agility of a cat or the strength of a bear you will never find an animal aspiring to be like a human.

  12. Da !! Eu sint de acord ca si animalele sa aivă drepturi ca si omul !! Vă pare rău că sint mai inteligente decit bastarzii ce se nasc in ziua de azi ??? Acești bastarzi vor deveni criminalii, hoții, vagabonzii si curvele de mâine !!!! DA !!! Sunt de acord ca animalele să fie tratate ca si rasa umana !!!!

  13. Please grant this. And let all the predators out in demand city’s and prohibit killing them in self defense. And since they are people illegally incarcerated every zoo employee and visitor over 18 must be arrested, charged, and sent to prison for kidnapping, and unlawful imprisonment, or conspiracy to do so.

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