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Protesters Demand Freedom for Bronx Zoo Elephant, Happy

August 12, 2019 by Leave a Comment

The News

As crowds entered the Bronx Zoo on Saturday, August 10th, dozens of activists with the Nonhuman Rights Project staged a protest at the entrance to demand that the Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs the zoo, release an elephant named Happy to a sanctuary after holding her captive in a small enclosure since 1977.

Happy is a 48 year old wild-born Asian elephant who was captured in Thailand and brought to the United States in the 1970s.  She has been held captive in the Bronx Zoo since 1977 and has lived alone in a barren one acre enclosure for the past 13 years. During the winter month, she is intensively confined to a small cement cell.

During the winter months, Happy (not pictured here) is held in this barren enclosure in the Bronx Zoo

“Elephants are social animals who need the companionship of other elephants,” said Kevin Schneider, the Executive Director of the Nonhuman Rights Project, “It’s no wonder that we see her swaying and engaging in other unnatural behaviors that indicate distress and suffering.”

Activists with the Nonhuman Rights Project demand that the Wildlife Conservation Society release Happy, an elephant held captive at the zoo since 1977, to a sanctuary

Both of the elephant sanctuaries in the United States, the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee and the Performing Animal Welfare Society in California, have agreed to take Happy at no cost to the Bronx Zoo, but the WCS has refused to let her go.  “The Wildlife Conservation Society acknowledged in 2006 that keeping Happy alone would be inhumane, so we don’t understand why they won’t release her from captivity,” said Schneider. “They either don’t want to acknowledge that Happy’s solitary confinement for the past 13 years has been cruel , or they don’t want to cave into pressure from animal rights advocates.”

During the warm months, Happy is held captive and alone in a one acre enclosure.

In 2018, the Nonhuman Rights Project filed a petition for a common law writ of habeas corpus in New York Supreme Court demanding recognition of Happy’s legal personhood and her fundamental right to bodily liberty. Happy is first elephant in the world to have a habeas corpus hearing to determine the lawfulness of her imprisonment.

As litigation proceeds, public support for the Happy’s freedom has grown. In June, two elected officials made public statements encouraging the WCS to free Happy. Corey Johnson, the Speaker of the New York City Council, wrote, “Happy and all elephants need more space and resources than the zoo can provide, plain and simple.  I urge the Bronx Zoo, which first planned to close the elephant exhibit back in 2006, to finally transfer Happy to one of two recommended sanctuaries so that she can enjoy the company of other elephants and the benefits afforded to a facility specifically designed to meet her needs.”  In a tweet, U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has voiced her opposition to solitary confinement for prison inmates, said that “The team and I are looking into what we can do” to free Happy.

In 2015, the animal advocacy group In Defense of Animals ranked the Bronx Zoo the fifth worst zoo in the United States for elephants. “The Bronx Zoo does not have the space, the resources, or the weather conditions that elephants need to live a reasonably healthy life. Shame on the Bronx Zoo for sentencing “Happy” to what is likely the most unhappy of sentences for an elephant: a life of self­ aware solitary confinement.”

A petition demanding an end to Happy’s solitary confinement has garnered over one million signatures.

Comments via Facebook Comments

  1. Kathie says:

    Have the ASPCA or PETA weighed in on this? I fail to see how this is good publicity for the Bronx Zoo or all of the boroughs of New York City. Why hasn’t anyone in authority or with some sense brought some reason into this horrific situation? GET RID of Director of the Bronx Zoo, Jim Breheny! He’s a blight…he’s evil! I am so disgusted and heartsick knowing that this poor creature faces more of the same loneliness and isolation in her remaining life!

  2. Nan says:

    Obviously, this animal should be released to a sanctuary where she can be with other elephants. They’re very social animals and it must be a tortuous existence for this unfortunate creature. This confinement is very cruel.

  3. carla jordan says:

    All of you are kind and caring to take the time to make her HAPPY. I, too visited the zoo as a child and was entertained by the families of elephants there. Now to know she is alone and abandoned seems in contrast to what the zoo once represented… Education and nurturing of their animals. The book “When elephants weep” by Jeffrey Masson will enlighten you all. especially the zoo keepers. bbyb

  4. carla jordan says:

    All of you are kind and caring to take the time to make her HAPPY. I, too visited the zoo as a child and was entertained by the families of elephants there. Now to know she is alone and abandoned seems in contrast to what the zoo once represented… Education and nurturing of their animals. The book “When elephants weep” by Jeffrey Masson will enlighten you all. especially the zoo keepers.

  5. Julie says:

    Director of the Bronx Zoo, Jim Breheny is really fighting to let Happy go to a sanctuary and claims she is fine and maintains a close bond with her caretakers. Sorry Jim, but that just isn’t enough! First of all, caretakers are not suitable replacements for other elephants! Secondly, tell us what your better reason is for keeping Happy alone at your zoo, on one acre of land, and on a cold concrete floor in the winter, rather than her having an AMAZING life at a sanctuary. I’m sure you have the power, on your end, to get Happy into a sanctuary. LET HER LIVE THE REST OF HER LIFE THE WAY IT WAS MEANT TO BE BEFORE HUMAN INTERACTION.

  6. We need a petition or an e-mail onslaught to the WCS about this horror. Isupported the zoo for many years, but will never again! Is there a group who could provide one member each Saturday and Sunday to give talks about this abuse AT HER ENCLOSURE? I ‘m in Florida, so I can’t, but I would! Also – in this election season, can we try to persuade candidates to make it an issue?

  7. ahimsa42 says:

    “The wild, cruel beast is not behind the bars of the cage. He is in front of it.”- Axel Munthe

    “Whoever is content with the world, and who profits from its lack of justice, does not want to change it.” -Friedrich Durrenmatt

    “I am ashamed of the race of beings to which I belong. It is so cruel and bigoted, so hypocritical, so soulless and insane. I would rather be an insect … a bee or a butterfly … and float in dim dreams among the wild-flowers of summer than be a man and feel the horrible and ghastly wrongs and sufferings of this wretched world.” -Professor J. Howard Moore

  8. April says:

    Let this elephant have the life she deserves, put her in a pack so she is not lonely. you know she is a pack animal, and her keepers are not her pack.

  9. Gary says:

    New petition needed to change her name to UNhappy…

  10. Zizi says:

    Zoos are businesses!!! They are money-making operations, not schools or educational institutions!

  11. Susan Anderson says:

    This situation makes me very unhappy. I visited the Bronx Zoo when I was a child, and they had elephants there then. As I remember it, there were several elephants on a piece of land surrounded by a moat. To let that deteriorate to one elephant restricted to a small area and confined alone in the winter months, is unconscionable. I cannot understand why those running the zoo refuse to let her go to a place where she can be cared for in the company of other elephants. There is no reason or excuse that can justify this refusal.

  12. Joan says:

    Happy is a sentient animal. She deserves a life of companionship and joy. Release her to a sanctuary.

  13. Isobel Doyle says:

    I fail to understand why the Zoo will not release this poor animal. I see this Zoo show on Animal Planet. One of the f.eatured Zoos is the Bronx Zoo. Is this show and what information they present false If that is the case then shame on them and I say the public needs to boycott the zoo.Do not visit and continue to support this treatment of the animal.

  14. Elizabeth Leffler says:

    This is so heartbreaking, especially when there is no need for this treatment,

    Please release this Suffering and beautiful Elephant. Where is your heart, ethics and morality.


  15. Kathie says:

    The WCS acknowledges their stance is inhumane and yet does NOTHING!? What kind of insanity are we dealing with here? No companions, not even music which has been proven to be beneficial to elephants, especially! WCS should put their own members into solitary confinement so they can get a feel for it. I am deeply ashamed of these animal abusers! I wouldn’t expect this of a U.S institution.

  16. Diane says:

    Please release Happy to one of the Sanctuaries! She deserves to be with her own species and roam free and honestly feel Happy! Please have a heart, there is so much nonsense and cruelty in the world, why do you want to be of that!! I would think you would want to be part of kindness and helpfulness! Do the right thing for Happy!!!!!!

  17. Zizi says:

    The Bronx Zoo, like every other zoo, is nothing more than a “fancy” prison (in this case) for captive animals, most of whom, unfortunately, have either been born in captivity or stolen from their families and natural habitats. Their lives are barren and cruel punishment, especially for elephants who travel miles each day and live in close-knit family groups. They have been deprived of everything necessary for their emotional and physical well-being, in order to make money as “exhibits” for zoos.

    There is NOTHING, ZERO, ZILCH, NADA, educational or stimulating or appropriate, for such animals who languish and die in captivity. It’s long past time to shut down these archaic forms of “amusement”/”entertainment” for the naive and ignorant who continue to patronize these wildlife prisons.

  18. robert says:

    Stop this torture………….. quickly

  19. Karen Westberg says:

    It is excruciating to imagine the despairing loneliness of Happy! It is gut wrenching and heartbreaking that Happy is languishing away alone in an enclosure and living such an unnatural life in isolation! Elephants are meant to live in social family groups. Happy is being forced to live an unbearably lonely, unstimulating life – – no, it’s not really a life – – it’s an agonizing plain simple existence! It’s awful!!! Happy needs to be happy! Truly HAPPY! Life in a sanctuary with other elephants would give Happy a fulfilling, rewarding life. Please let Happy have that!!!

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