If Happy Is Set Free, Expect Lawsuits To Flourish

Happy the elephant is an autonomous being illegally held in captivity. That claim was made by a group called the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) in their lawsuit filed in New York against the Bronx Zoo seeking to have Happy “liberated.”

The lawsuit demands the recognition of Happy’s “legal personhood and fundamental right to bodily liberty” and her transfer to an elephant sanctuary.

As elephants go, the 47-year-old Happy has made more news than most. In 2006 it was announced she was the first elephant to pass the mirror self-recognition test (MSR). The MSR is a behavioral technique developed in 1970 as an attempt to determine whether a non-human animal possesses the ability of visual self-recognition.

In the test, Happy faced her reflection in an 8-by-8-foot mirror and repeatedly used her trunk to touch an "X" painted above her eye. The elephant could not have seen the mark except in her reflection. To date, the only other species to pass the MSR test are: great apes, dolphins, orcas, the Eurasian magpie and ants.

Now, should the NhRP prevail in their lawsuit, Happy could gain legal “personhood,” allowing animal activist lawyers to file lawsuits against zoos, aquariums, farms, medical research facilities, and even pet owners. The “plaintiffs” in such actions would be the animals, and the animal lawyers would claim to “speak for” them.

Wow. Such a victory for NhRP would also be a victory for PETA, as the groups have the same agenda. It likely also to flood the legal system with suits filed by vegans and animal activists on behalf of farm animals.

To date, the NhRP has failed at gaining similar personhood status for to two chimps named Tommy and Kiko, an effort that was thwarted by the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division last year.

Regarding the suit on behalf of Happy, a spokesperson for the Bronx Zoo called the suit “ludicrous.”

“The Nonhuman Rights Project is exploiting the Bronx Zoo elephants to advance their own failing cause in the courts as they put forth ludicrous legal arguments and lies about our elephants, facilities and staff,” Zoo director Jim Breheny said in a statement.