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Judge sends Happy the Elephant’s case from Orleans County to Bronx

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 14 December 2018 at 3:45 pm

Plaintiff argues Happy is a ‘person’ and should be freed from captivity at Bronx Zoo

Photo from Nonhuman Rights Project: Happy, a female Asian elephant born in the wild in 1971, is shown in the Bronx Zoo where Happy has been living the past 40 years.

ALBION – A State Supreme Court judge heard motions today in a case that claims an elephant at the Bronx Zoo should be considered a person and not be held in captivity.

“This is probably the most unusual case I’ve sat on,” State Supreme Court Justice Tracey Bannister said in the Orleans County Courthouse today.

She said she has been a judge for 10 years and worked in the court for 20 years prior to that.

“I’ve always enjoyed elephants,” she told the attorneys before they began their arguments.

Bannister would ultimately not make a ruling on the arguments, except to grant the a change of venue motion from the attorneys representing the Bronx Zoo. The judge said the case didn’t belong in Orleans County.

If the case proceeds and experts, lawyers and witnesses are called to court, Bannister said the courthouse in Albion “would be amongst the most inconvenient places” for a case originating in the Bronx. She said the case should be heard there.

Kenneth A. Manning, the attorney for the Bronx Zoo and its owner the Wildlife Conservation Society, said the Nonhuman Rights Project has been trying to “hijack the judicial system” by arguing an animal is a person and “shopping” the case to different courts outside what should be the obvious jurisdiction.

“Orleans County has nothing to do with this case, nothing,” Manning told Judge Bannister.

Steven M. Wise, an attorney and president of the Nonhuman Rights Project, said the court in Orleans County should hear the case.

He presented his arguments on behalf of Happy, a 47-year wild-born Asian elephant which has been in the Bronx Zoo for the past 40 years. Wise said he didn’t have any issues with Happy’s care by the zoo. He didn’t question the elephant’s veterinary treatment, food and health.

But he said the elephant ultimately is denied its freedom. Happy, while not a human being, should be considered a “person,” Wise said. An elephant is autonomous and social. It doesn’t want to held in captivity and confined to a “postage-stamp” of an acre, he said.

If the elephant was freed, Wise said it could go to an animal sanctuary with up to 2,300 acres to roam, including a site near Sacramento, Calif., or one in Tennessee.

Courts have historically acted on behalf of autonomy, Wise said. He cited cases when children held as slaves have been freed.

NhRP has filed habeas corpus lawsuits on behalf of chimpanzees with cases in Niagara County, Suffolk County and Fulton County. Manning, the Bronx Zoo attorney, said judges in those cases said NhRP failed to how cause. NhRP appealed and the Appellate Division at the Second, Third and Fourth Department all affirmed the courts’ decisions.

“A chimp has no benefit of habeas corpus because they simply not a person,” Manning said in court today.

The same logic should follow with the case of Happy, an elephant, he said.

“They will go from court to court, from animal to animal” until NhRP gets a favorable court decision, Manning told the judge.

He said the zoo has many experts who will testify that Happy is treated well.

Wise said the elephant has fundamental rights and shouldn’t be held at the zoo.

“It doesn’t matter whether they think Happy is happy,” Wise told the judge. “It’s a matter of liberty.”

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