Siding with Bronx Zoo, judge rules Happy the elephant is not a person

A group called the Nonhuman Rights Project sought Happy's release from the zoo.

Happy the elephant will have to be happy just being an elephant.

The group, called the Nonhuman Rights Project, sought Happy's release from the zoo, where she's lived for nearly 50 years.

Happy was part of a 2006 study published in the journal Science that described her ability to recognize herself in a mirror as evidence of human-like self-awareness. As such, Nonhuman Rights Project asserted, the elephant was not a thing lacking rights but akin to a person with a fundamental right to liberty based on the principle of habeas corpus, which guards against unlawful detention.

"The central purpose of habeas corpus is to release autonomous beings from illegal imprisonment," the group argued in its petition. "As an autonomous self-determining nonhuman, Happy is entitled to immediate release from her unlawful imprisonment."

The Nonhuman Rights Project has filed similar lawsuits before, but this was the only one taken seriously when the group persuaded a judge to at least consider transferring Happy to a sanctuary in California.

In a statement, the Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs the Bronx Zoo, called the lawsuit was "ill-conceived" and defended its care of Happy.