In New York, justice decides: Happy the elephant is not legally a human

Also “intelligent” be it, the elephant Happy is not a person and cannot benefit from human rights, ruled on Tuesday June 14 the highest court of the State of New York, putting an end to a battle as ethical as legal . The New York Court of Appeals had been seized of an appeal by the animal rights association Nonhuman Rights Project which demanded the transfer of Happy from a zoo in the Bronx, where she has lived for 45 years, to a sanctuary. for elephants.

This Asian elephant is “extraordinarily autonomous and cognitively complex” and should be “recognized as a legal person with the right to liberty”had pleaded the association which brought similar actions for other elephants, as well as chimpanzees, across the United States.

“What about dolphins and dogs? »

Even though “Elephants are intelligent beings that deserve proper care and compassion”this right “does not apply to Happy, a non-human animal who is not a ‘person’ subject to unlawful detention”ruled the New York high court in a judgment delivered on Tuesday and written by the head of the court, Janet DiFiore.

For her, proving Happy was right would upset all “interactions between humans and animals”, in terms of property, in the food industry or in medical research. And, after the elephants, “What about dolphins and dogs? Or cows, pigs or poultry that are kept under much more restrictive conditions? “.

American society sensitive to the animal cause

Reflecting the great sensitivity of Americans to the animal cause, two of the seven judges of the Court however dissociated themselves from this decision. For them, the Court should have recognized Happy’s right to liberty “not only because she is a wild animal that is not meant to be caged and exhibited, but also because conferring rights on others defines our society”.

In his argument, one of them recalls that the Bronx zoo had exhibited, in 1906, in the monkey space, Ota Benga, a member of the Pygmy people kidnapped in Africa. “Ota Benga was a human being, Happy is not”but “both have suffered enormously from their detention”writes Judge Rowan Wilson.

To say that after women and slaves he is ” logic “ to extend rights to elephants is “an odious comparison”, retorted judge DiFiore. In conclusion, she pointed out “huge interest” that this dossier has raised in the public.

“It bears witness to the complicated and evolving relationship between humans and animals”writes the magistrate, praising “the will of society to dialogue on the subject”. She hoped, however, that it would continue in legislatures rather than in the courts.


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