happy elephant bronx zoo
Bronx Zoo elephant "Happy" feeds inside the zoo's Asia habitat. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
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Human judges at the New York Court of Appeals appeared irritated that human attorneys representing an anti-hunting group clogged up their docket to argue that Happy the elephant, an animal in the care of the Bronx Zoo, is not an animal but instead is ‘a person.’

The case has wide-ranging implications on hunting, conservation and animal agriculture communities and for wildlife management from sea to sea.

“If Happy is a person, does that mean that I couldn’t keep a dog?,” Judge Jenny Rivera asked the attorneys representing the Nonhuman Rights Project, Inc. (NhRP). “I mean, dogs can memorize words.”

The case has been pending for a couple of years but the antihunting group finally got their day in court. Happy the elephant was not in court and instead remained at the zoo.

The Case

Happy is a 50-year-old elephant in the loving care of Bronx zookeepers for the past 45 years. She’s been cared for, well fed, bathed and watched over during her peaceful life. Happy even has a social life with visitors and other elephants. This isn’t good enough for NhRP though. They brought the zoo to court in 2019, suing – for a second time – to extend human rights to Happy.

“Happy is an autonomous, cognitively complex elephant worthy of the right reserved in law for ‘a person,’” NhRP told media last week, arguing their case based on grounds of habeus corpus, or the legal doctrine stating Happy is a human person being held against her will. The case involving Happy was rejected by Bronx Supreme Court Judge Alison Tuitt last year and marked the fifth time the group has lost a fight to claim legal personhood for animals. But the case now was in front of the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, where NhRP tried yet again. “She has an interest in exercising her choices and deciding who she wants to be with, and where to go, and what to do, and what to eat,” NhRP’s attorney pleaded. “And the zoo is prohibiting her from making any of those choices herself.”

The Bronx Zoo wasn’t having it. “The blatant exploitation of Happy the elephant by NhRP to advance their coordinated agenda shows no concern for the individual animal and reveals the fact they are willing to sacrifice Happy’s health and psychological well-being to set precedent,” a zoo spokesperson said. “Happy is well cared for by professionals with decades of experience and with whom she is strongly bonded.”

Bronx Zoo Elephant-Lawsuit
Bronx Zoo elephant “Happy” strolls inside the zoo’s Asia display, Tuesday Oct. 2, 2018, in New York. An animal welfare group has brought a legal action against the Bronx Zoo on behalf of Happy, who was separated from the zoo’s two other elephants after they fatally injured her mate, arguing that the animal has similar rights to a human being and is being “unlawfully imprisoned.” (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

The court seemed skeptical of NhRP’s argument. An attorney representing the Bronx Zoo added, “If there’s going to entirely be a rewrite and a granting to animals of rights that they never had before, shouldn’t that be done by the Legislature?”

What’s At Stake?

The case, as absurd as it sounds given that NhRP has lost earlier challenges, does have implications for hunters and conservation. Next NhRP or the anti-hunting Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) will represent whitetail deer in a class action to end deer hunting. Even the animal agricultural community is watching closely. If an elephant is ruled by a court to have “personhood,” then what’s to stop animal rights groups from suing to free cows, or pigs, or chickens or pheasants?

The New York Farm Bureau and other agriculture groups submitted an amicus brief, or friend-of-the-court, agreeing with the zoo and rejecting NhRP’s “new-fangled theory of personhood,” warning, “Worse, if any of those habeas petitions succeed in securing the release or transfer of livestock…the downstream effects also would be serious.”

It’s easy to see how a win for NhRP would be a severe loss for hunters and conservationists and would be felt by all and have generational consequences.

America’s Millions of New Conservationists

During the coronavirus pandemic, America experienced a phenomenon that brought millions of Americans into the hunting community. The hunting renaissance was far-reaching as Americans young and old, from all backgrounds, races and creeds took up hunting to seek fresh air and some natural outdoors social distancing. Hunting license sales and permits set records in many states and the trend kept going throughout. All told more than 40 million firearms have been sold over the past two years and a significant number have been for hunting purposes.

All those firearms being purchased, the ammunition needed for practice and range time, and hunting licenses and permits purchased are literally paying for the future successes of America’s wildlife for generations to come. Every time a hunter or sports shooter purchases a firearm or ammunition, manufacturers pay an excise tax that is dedicated to wildlife conservation efforts nationwide through the Pittman-Robertson Act. This year, Pittman-Robertson surpassed the $15 billion mark in contributions to the Wildlife Restoration Trust Fund since its inception in 1937.

NhRP should be careful what they wish for. Happy is enjoying a wonderful life and a long-shot victory for the antihunting group would be devastating for America’s wildlife. Encouraging more hunting and conserving these habitats and species is the ultimate animal rights effort. Hunters are the original conservationists. We’re happy for Happy that she’s being cared for in the Bronx zoo.

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38 COMMENTS

  1. They will never win. This or a similar group argued unsuccessfully that a Chimp was a person, and therefore owned the rights to a photograph taken of him, including the right to seek royalties for reproductions of the photo. I have no idea why these people seem to enjoy throwing their money away. They do not seem to recognize the catastrophic consequences of a win.

    • Leftists have a multi-pronged approach to the tearing down of our society. Well, at least the one whispering in their ears does. Eventually, some of their pasta is going to begin sticking to the wall. Actually, some of it has, and their relative successes already make quite a list.

    • It was a macaque monkey in Indonesia, BTW, but the case was even worse

      Claiming that because the monkey pressed the shutter (it got into the photographer’s camp, “monkeyed around” with a camera, and accidentally took a couple of selfies), PETA filed the suit asserting copyright ownership “on behalf” of the monkey — despite zero actual connection between PETA and the monkey (who disappeared back into the Indonesian forest).

      The case was eventually thrown out, but not before the poor photographer was all but bankrupted by the legal fees and expenses (which I suspect was part of PETA’s strategy — pick on someone who can’t afford to fight back and maybe you’ll get a judgment by default.)

      What infuriated me, an IP attorney specializing in copyright law, is a very simple threshold issue why the case should have been nuked up front. If you accept, for purposes of argument, that PETA was correct that the monkey was the actual “author” of the photograph, then because the monkey was never a US resident and the work was not created in the US, it was a “foreign work” under US copyright law . . . and thus PETA would first have to prove the threshold issue that Indonesia would have extended copyright protection to works made by a monkey. That wouldn’t even pass the giggle test.

  2. A person is a person no matter how small-or big? Sentient huh? Like apes & dolphins?!? Where are their cities, culture,literature or religion? I believe we should be good stewards of critters but they ain’t people…

    • “Happy for President” she is already a conservative symbol…far better than the jackass symbol of the Donkey Party.

      …and no doubt that she is brighter than the Resident in Charge Jackass.

  3. I’m sure dumping her in Asia or Africa after 40 years of living in captivity will work out great.

    Anybody ask these “activists” which Chinese voodoo peddling poaching crew they’re working for?

    • Why not just let her loose in NYC? She can make her own choices. Of course, she should also be liable for the damage she causes in Tiffany’s.

  4. Forget hunting and conservation, this case has implications for people marrying animals.

    And I thought they might stop at pansexual, polyamorous, genderfluid furbabys but nooooooo. That’s too fuckin’ normal.

  5. Those lawyers should be ashamed to compare an elephant to the low standards of a human.
    Of course Happy is a person but she ain’t no human,,,,get outta here.

  6. Let them eat grass! I’ll take the bone in ribeye, rare, baked potato w/butter and sour cream, a salad w/ranch. Oh, mushrooms.

  7. If a man can be a woman, and a woman a man, why can’t an animal decide they are a person?

    The Court of Appeals should re-convene at the zoo, and take testimony from the elephant.

    If Data is a “new life form”, rather than a toaster, what is the definition of “elephant”, or “animal”?

    • @Sam

      You will have to pose that question to what’s her name, the brilliant lawyer Joey pushed for the Supreme Court…she has all the answers.

      • When asked at her Senate confirmation hearing. She couldn’t define what a woman was. Much less if an elephant is a person.

  8. Happy is an elephant, so obviously she’s a Republican. If she was a Democrat, she’d be a jackass. Well, they all are.

  9. UUUUH WHO IS THAT MASKED LONG NOSE , UUH TRUNK , PERSON ,UUH ELEPHANT ?
    WHATEVER HUGE ANIMAL … O’ YOU WILD ANIMAL YOU , THING~IE .
    MAY AN ELEPHANT CARESS YA HUMANS WITH IT’S TOES FOR TRYING TO RELATE IT TO A HUMAN ANIMAL . …
    SHAME SHAME ON YA HUMANS ?? WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE HUMAN .
    NEVER EVER SEEN A ELEPHANT LOCK IN LOAD A FIRE ARM , NO , THANK GOD ….
    HAVE EVER SEEN A ELEPHANT FLY ??

  10. And yet an actual human, who hasn’t yet made it out of the womb, is considered just a blob of tissue by these same lunatics.

  11. In todays sick society, men have turned into woman and the law has recognized it. Men compete at women in professional sports. You can be legally charged with a hate crime by not calling someone their preferred pronoun.
    I see the lawsuits to declare animals as humans an extension of this. The lawyers against the zoo dont believe it. They are only in it for the money. At the rate our country is falling, I have no doubt some woke judge will rule to grant human rights to animals.
    But will that give animals the right to buy guns ?

  12. GUESS THE FOLKS THEY CARED FOR EITHER CROAKED OR COULDN’T PAY THEIR ANTI
    GUN RHETORIC GOT TIRED OF PAYING THEIR FED TAXES

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