Are Elephants People?

By Austin Durkin


Recently, the Nonhuman Rights Project had made a case with the Bronx Zoo. They petitioned that the Asian elephant, known as Happy, should be released into the wilds where her kind would normally roam. They went about this by declaring she was a self-aware person. They said that she could recognize herself in a mirror, due to a 2006 study involving Happy, and so this should be enough legal proof to declare Habeas Corpus. Habeas Corpus states that a person imprisoned unlawfully shall be brought before a judge and released unless lawful grounds are found for their detention. This would be simple, except they had to not only prove that Happy is a person, but that the zoo “unlawfully” imprisoned her.

This was already a problem because many courts wouldn’t even hear their case. They finally convinced one court to take the case, the Bronx County Supreme Court, but they had to settle for having Happy released to a wildlife sanctuary in California. This still wasn’t enough as their case was said to be ‘ill conceived’ by the Bronx Zoo and Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs said zoo. The Nonhuman Rights Project lost the case and Happy is still with the zoo. The Bronx Zoo had this to say, “The Bronx Zoo takes excellent care of Happy and will continue to do so, along with all animals here at the zoo.” Happy has been with the zoo for nearly 50 years. This was definitely proof that the zoo loves it’s elephants, but elephants are not people.