THE BRONX — Happy the elephant has called the Bronx Zoo home for more than four decades.
Although she’s had some roommates over the year, the Asian elephant has been solo since 2006 in what animal rights activists describe as a “cramped and lonely” enclosure.
It’s the reason why they’ve waged a legal fight to get her out and into a sanctuary.
In a historic court hearing Monday in Bronx Supreme Court, Happy became the first elephant ever to have a hearing ordered on her behalf.
Attorneys for the NonHuman Rights Project, a nonprofit organization which filed the lawsuit against the zoo, argued Happy’s “liberty is being violated.”
“For the law to say that elephants and every single other animal – just because they’re not human – has to remain relegated to the status of property like a thing like a car, is simply wrong,” Kevin Schneider — the organization’s executive director, who is also one of the attorneys on the case — told PIX11.
Schneider says the group is citing science in their fight to get the court to recognize Happy as a “person” entitled to legal rights.
“The science shows that elephants are autonomous beings,” he explained. “They have a free will, they are not cabin by instinct - they have an interest in their own lives.”
While the group’s argument had enough merit to warrant a day in court, some experts say it may be a hard sell.
The NonHuman Rights Project have launched similar legal fights in the past, including demanding “personhood” be granted to two upstate chimpanzees but they have yet to notch a win.
In a statement to PIX11, the Bronx Zoo emphatically denies the claims made by the non-human rights project, insisting that Happy is quite content at the zoo and gets frequent, round the clock care from staff.
The two sides go back to court next month.