A Tortoise File

Happy the elephant

A judge will decide whether Happy is unlawfully detained and can leave her zoo for an elephant sanctuary. It is a milestone case – not least for our relationship with animals.

Why this story?

There’s little reason you’ll have heard of Happy. She’s an elephant in Bronx zoo. Next month, a court in New York will judge whether Happy has Habeas Corpus rights and, if so, is unlawfully detained and can leave the zoo and live out her days in an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee. It is a milestone case – and a story about whether our relationship with animals can hold.

A group of farmers and ranchers fear it could open the floodgates: “If this Court or any court finds that Happy or any other non-human animal is entitled to habeas corpus rights,” they say, then animal rights campaigners will seek “a new common law, one that would allow virtually all animals to be freed.”

Every person in the story– whether a zookeeper, lawyer or scientist – loves elephants; they have devoted their lives to give us a more detailed understanding of what animals see, think and experience.

And, by any measure, it is slow news: the elephant’s case asks whether, in the decades to come, humans will strike a new deal with the other animals. In among the many lessons of the 2020 pandemic, a bug that appears to have crossed the species barrier from bats into humans suggests it’s time we rethink our incursion on the natural world.

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First published
Monday 12 October 2020

Last updated
Tuesday 17 November 2020