Happy the elephant to stay at Bronx Zoo after animal rights group loses court challenge

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The Bronx Zoo's Happy the elephant is not a human being, according to a New York state appellate court that upheld a lower court ruling finding the animal is not a person and not being illegally imprisoned.

Happy the elephant has lived at the Bronx Zoo for more than 40 years, but the animal rights group the Nonhuman Rights Project has been trying to move her.

"If you want to take a look at a really depressed elephant, go to the Bronx Zoo and go visit Happy," the group's president and lead attorney Steven Wise said. "If you're an elephant in the wild you're going to be moving 10, 20 miles a day, and Happy is forced to basically stand still on an acre of land and has for more than 40 years."

Wise said he's been to Kenya and observed wild elephants.

"Believe me, they just don't stand there for hour after hour, they move," he said.

Wise tried using what's called the writ of habeas corpus to convince a state appellate court to allow Happy to be moved to a 2,700-acre sanctuary in Tennessee.

The writ is used to show that a prisoner is being detained unlawfully.

But the appeals court on Thursday sided with the zoo, saying that habeas corpus is limited to human beings. Read the ruling here.

Wise said they will appeal.

"Habeas corpus does not protect just humans, it protects any entity who is autonomous and self-determining," Wise said. "This is something that we do to prisoners, we put them in solitary confinement, but Happy never did anything and so she's been forced to live on a postage stamp of land by herself in solitary confinement."

Wise said that Happy is kept alone on 1-acre of land, but the zoo said the elephant is not kept in isolation, she is not languishing and she is not kept indoors for half the year.

In a statement, the Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs the zoo, called the ruling a victory for "common sense.''

The organization labeled the lawsuit as inaccurate, misleading and blatantly untrue.