FILE - In this Oct. 2, 2018 file photo, Bronx Zoo elephant “Happy” strolls inside the zoo’s Asia Habitat in New York. A legal fight to release Happy the elephant from the Bronx Zoo after 45 years will be argued Wednesday, May 18, 2022, before New York’s highest court in a closely watched case over whether a basic right for people can be extended to an animal. AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

FILE - In this Oct. 2, 2018 file photo, Bronx Zoo elephant “Happy” strolls inside the zoo’s Asia Habitat in New York. A legal fight to release Happy the elephant from the Bronx Zoo after 45 years will be argued Wednesday, May 18, 2022, before New York’s highest court in a closely watched case over whether a basic right for people can be extended to an animal. AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

Happy the elephant isn’t a person, top New York court rules

Group was seeking to have Bronx Zoo resident released on grounds of illegal confinement

New York’s top court on Tuesday rejected an effort to free Happy the elephant from the Bronx Zoo, ruling that she does not meet the definition of “person” who is being illegally confined.

The 5-2 decision by the state Court of Appeals affirms an earlier court decision and means Happy will not be released through a habeas corpus proceeding, which is a way for people to challenge illegal confinement.

The majority decision written by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said that “while no one disputes that elephants are intelligent beings deserving of proper care and compassion,” a writ of habeas corpus is intended to protect the liberty of human beings and does not apply to a nonhuman animal like Happy.

The case had been closely watched by animal rights activists and industries that depend on animals. The zoo and its supporters warned that a win for advocates at the Nonhuman Rights Project could open the door to more legal actions on behalf of animals, including pets and other species in zoos.

The advocates at the Nonhuman Rights Project argued that Happy is an autonomous, cognitively complex elephant worthy of the right reserved in law for “a person.”

The Bronx Zoo argued Happy is neither illegally imprisoned nor a person, but a well-cared-for elephant “respected as the magnificent creature she is.”

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