Happy may be very intelligent, but that doesn’t make her a person. And for good reason: Happy is an elephant, who has lived for 45 years at the Bronx Zoo in New York.
American justice was seized by the association for the defense of animals Nonhuman Rights Project, which demanded the transfer of the pachyderm to a sanctuary. This Asian elephant is “extraordinarily autonomous and cognitively complex” and should be “recognized as a legal person with the right to freedom”, had pleaded the association.
Disagreement among judges
The New York Court of Appeals ruled on Tuesday, finding that elephants are indeed “intelligent beings who deserve adequate care and compassion”. But according to the judges, the right to liberty cannot apply to “a non-human animal, which is not a ‘person’ subject to unlawful detention”.
For the head of the Court of Appeal, Janet DiFiore, proving Happy would upset all “interactions between humans and animals” in terms of property, agribusiness or medical research. Two of the seven judges, however, dissociated themselves from this decision, considering that Happy should have been granted a right to freedom “not only because she is a wild animal who is not supposed to be in cages and on display, but also because giving rights to others defines our society”.
Janet DiFiore underlined the “enormous interest” that this file aroused among the public. “It speaks to the complicated and evolving relationship between humans and animals,” she wrote, hoping the debate will continue in legislatures rather than in court. The association has already introduced similar remedies for other elephants and chimpanzees in the United States.