NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Happy the elephant will stay at the Bronx Zoo after New York state's highest court on Tuesday (June 14) ruled against an animal rights group that said she deserved some of the same rights as humans and should be freed.
In a 5-2 decision, the Albany-based Court of Appeals said the writ of habeas corpus, which allows people to be released from illegal custody, did not apply to Happy despite claims that the 51-year-old elephant shared many of the same cognitive abilities as humans.
"While no one disputes that elephants are intelligent beings deserving of proper care and compassion," Chief Judge Janet DiFiore wrote, "Happy, as a non-human animal, does not have a legally cognisable right to be at liberty under New York law."
Ms DiFiore also said granting freedom to Happy would have "an enormous destabilising impact on modern society" and could generate a "flood" of petitions to free animals, perhaps including pets and service animals.
She said it should be up to the legislature to decide whether to grant non-human animals the same legal rights as people.
Tuesday's decision is a defeat for the Non-human Rights Project, which began asking New York courts four years ago to release Happy to one of two elephant sanctuaries in the United States.
The Florida-based group had objected to what it considered Happy's imprisonment inside a 0.4-hectare enclosure at the zoo, segregated from other elephants.
Neither the Non-human Rights Project nor the Bronx Zoo immediately replied to requests for comment.
Two lower courts had previously sided with the zoo, which maintains that Happy is well cared for.
In spirited dissents, the dissenting judges empathised with Happy.
"When the majority answers, 'No, animals cannot have rights,' I worry for that animal, but I worry even more greatly about how that answer denies and denigrates the human capacity for understanding, empathy and compassion," Judge Rowan Wilson wrote.