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Elephant Is Not A Person: NY Court Decides Furthest-Advancing Animal Rights Case In US History

The New York Court of Appeals has determined that an elephant at the Bronx Zoo is not a "legal person," rejecting a nonprofit organization's argument that the animal is being unlawfully imprisoned.
The New York Court of Appeals has determined that an elephant at the Bronx Zoo is not a "legal person," rejecting a nonprofit organization's argument that the animal is being unlawfully imprisoned. Photo Credit: Pixabay/Marcel Langthim

The New York State Court of Appeals has determined that an elephant at the Bronx Zoo is not a "legal person," rejecting a nonprofit organization's argument that the animal is being unlawfully imprisoned. 

The court announced its ruling in the Nonhuman Rights Project vs. James J. Breheny on Tuesday, June 14.

According to the court's ruling, petitioner Nonhuman Rights Project argued that Breheny, director of the Bronx Zoo, and the Wildlife Conservation Society, the organization that operates the zoo, had unlawfully confined an Asian elephant named Happy at the zoo in violation of the elephant's bodily liberty.

The group said Happy did not have sufficient direct social contact with other elephants in her living situation at the Bronx Zoo and should be transferred to "an appropriate sanctuary." 

National Geographic reported that Tuesday's 5-2 decision ends the furthest-advancing case for animal rights in the history of the United States judicial system.

The Nonhuman Rights Project seeks to establish that "at least some nonhuman animals" are "legal persons" and entitled to certain rights, the Court of Appeals said. 

The organization has also commenced other proceedings in New York and other states on behalf of elephants and chimpanzees, arguing that they are "legal persons" and are being unlawfully confined.

"Because the writ of habeas corpus is intended to protect the liberty right of human beings to be free of unlawful confinement, it has no applicability to Happy, a nonhuman animal who is not a 'person' subjected to illegal detention," Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said. "Thus, while no one disputes that elephants are intelligent beings deserving of proper care and compassion, the courts below properly granted the motion to dismiss the petition for a writ of habeas corpus, and we therefore affirm."

Read the full decision from the court here.

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