NY Judge Grants Habeas Order for Bronx Zoo Elephant

(CN) – Celebrating the advancement of its effort to make the Bronx Zoo free one of its Asian elephants, the Nonhuman Rights Project said Monday that Happy is the world’s first elephant to secure a habeas corpus order.

Happy the Asian elephant has lived at the Bronx Zoo since 1977. (Photo by Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society)

The Nov. 16 order from Justice Tracey Bannister comes just over a week after the group complained that its petition was languishing in Orleans County Supreme Court.

Happy arrived at the Bronx Zoo in 1977 when she was 6 years old, having been captured with a herd of six other calves that were all named for the dwarves in the fairy tale “Snow White.”

But the Nonhuman Rights Project notes that the Bronx Zoo euthanized Happy’s longtime companion Grumpy in 2002 and separated her around the same time from two other elephants named Patty and Maxine. Happy has lived alone since the zoo euthanized Sammie, the next elephant that became Happy’s companion, in 2006.

Touting Happy as the first elephant to pass the mirror self-recognition test, Wise’s group says that no animal with the cognitive abilities such as those exhibited by Happy should be in a cage.

Justice Bannister scheduled oral argument in Happy’s case for Dec. 14.

“We are grateful to Justice Bannister for carefully considering our arguments as to why Happy’s case should move forward,” Elizabeth Stein, an attorney with Nonhuman Rights Projects said.

Steven M. Wise, founder and president of the group, celebrated the habeas order as well.

Wise said world-class experts have found that “Happy is an autonomous being who evolved to walk 20 or more miles a day as a member of a multigenerational large social group.”

“The entirety of the zoo’s elephant exhibit provides far less than even one percent of the space she would roam in a single day in the wild,” Wise added. “She doesn’t belong to a social group. Her autonomy is thwarted daily. This has got to stop.”

The Bronx Zoo reacted to the habeas petition last month by noting that Happy shows “no signs of physiological or psychological stress,” and maintains a close bond with her caretakers.

In Connecticut, the Nonhuman Rights Project is appealing on behalf of the elephants Beulah, Karen and Minnie, which are owned by the Comerford Zoo in Goshen.

Though the organization secured the world’s first habeas corpus hearing involving an animal in 2015 — part of a fight to recognize the personhood of a chimpanzee named Tommy — New York’s highest court closed the book on the case earlier this year.

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