Bronx, NY – May 18, 2022 – The following statement was released today by the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo:

The lawyers advocating for Happy, an Asian elephant at the Bronx Zoo, are encouraged that the Court of Appeals of the State of New York will affirm the opinions of the lower courts and dismiss the habeas corpus petition filed by the NonHuman Rights Project (NRP) seeking personhood for Happy.

With this appeal, NRP continues to misuse the writ of habeas corpus to advance what they have called ‘a state-by-state, country-by-country, long-term litigation campaign.’ The blatant exploitation of Happy the elephant by NRP to advance their coordinated agenda shows no concern for the individual animal and reveals the fact they are willing to sacrifice Happy’s health and psychological well-being to set precedent. They are not “freeing” Happy as they purport, but arbitrarily demanding that she be uprooted from her home and transferred to another facility where they would prefer to see her live. This demand is based on a philosophy and does not consider her behavior, history, personality, age and special needs. 

The NRP has been using two strategies in their anti-zoo campaign. One is in the courts with an attempt to misappropriate the writ of habeas corpus; the other is in public with misleading and false statements about Happy’s welfare, living conditions and care. Their concern is winning a legal argument, not what is best for Happy.

On the law:

The court should not issue a writ of habeas corpus in a case such as this – where the holding of the elephant is not illegal; the relief sought is not actual release from confinement; and the writ is filed regarding a non-human animal. Habeas corpus is a summary proceeding with one remedy intended for people: release from illegal confinement.

In the case of Happy, NRP is demanding that Happy be moved from her home at the Bronx Zoo to another facility simply because they do not like zoos. They are not seeking her “freedom,” as is the purpose of a writ of habeas corpus. Further and very importantly, the Bronx Zoo is in compliance with all state and federal laws, with all accreditation standards established by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums and has the best interest of the elephant in mind. The NRP case clearly has nothing to do with Happy’s welfare. NRP is using Happy the same way they have used animals in other cases in their effort to upend centuries of habeas corpus law and impose their own world view that animals should not be in zoos.

The NRP has unilaterally determined that they want Happy to be transferred to another facility because the other facility has more space than the Bronx Zoo. They have made this determination with no actual knowledge of her behavior, physical condition, age, preferences, or personality. In their haste to land an anti-zoo opinion, they sloppily filed their underlying petition with affidavits that are based on textbook generalities and studies of African elephants (a species of elephant in a different genus than Asian elephants) in the field. The NRP affidavits focus on elephant behavior in nature, not in zoos, and the people providing testimony for them have no experience in managing elephants.

On welfare:

From the beginning, the information perpetuated by NRP about Happy has been inaccurate, misleading or simply false. In fact, Happy is not kept in isolation – she has contact with another elephant; Happy is not languishing; Happy is not kept indoors for half the year; Happy is well cared for by professionals with decades of experience and with whom she is strongly bonded.  

The NRP, which originally filed the habeas corpus petition in 2018, has been ruled against by more than 20 judges in this and similar cases in New York State alone. As they admittedly shop for a friendly court, NRP’s repeated use of the legal system is wasteful and self-serving. Every court presented with NRP’s position has rejected it, including cases in Connecticut and Massachusetts. As stated in the Bronx Zoo brief before the Court of Appeals: ‘NRP fails to identify any decision from this State, elsewhere in the United States, or in English common law to support its position.’

There have been millions of words written about this case by the media fascinated by the possibility of granting personhood to animals. At the Bronx Zoo, we are focused on what is best for Happy, not in general terms, but as an individual with a unique and distinct personality.