Nonhuman Rights Project Wins Restraining Order Against Bronx Zoo
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FROM NhRP Nonhuman Rights Project
October 2019

The NhRP sought the order after the Bronx Zoo refused to agree not to move the NhRP's elephant client Happy from New York before an upcoming hearing.

Justice Alison Y. Tuitt of the Bronx Supreme Court has granted the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) its request for a temporary restraining order that prevents the Bronx Zoo from moving Happy the elephant out of New York State before an Oct. 21st hearing in her historic elephant rights case.

The NhRP sought the order on Monday after legal counsel for the Wildlife Conservation Society, which manages the Bronx Zoo, refused to agree not to move Happy from New York before the upcoming hearing. As detailed in an emergency affirmation, this refusal represents a marked departure from the Bronx Zoo’s previous assurance that it had no intention of moving Happy, who has been held in captivity in the zoo’s roughly one-acre elephant exhibit for over forty years, the last 13 of which she has spent alone. Removal of Happy from New York would strip the New York courts of jurisdiction and prevent the NhRP from obtaining its requested habeas corpus order requiring Happy’s release to either The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee or the Performing Animal Welfare Society sanctuary in California.

“We don’t know why the Bronx Zoo is now refusing to agree not to move Happy given their prior statements,” said Kevin Schneider, Executive Director of the NhRP and the attorney who argued the proposed order. “What’s clear is that, unless Happy is released to a sanctuary, any move the Bronx Zoo makes will serve only the Bronx Zoo’s interests, not hers.”

The NhRP filed a habeas corpus petition on Happy’s behalf in October 2018, seeking recognition of her personhood and right to liberty and her release to a sanctuary. The lawsuit is supported by world-renowned elephant experts, including Dr. Joyce Poole, who wrote in a recent op-ed that “the Bronx Zoo’s exhibit is too small to meet the needs of Happy or any elephant.”

“The primary question Justice Tuitt had for the Bronx Zoo was: what is the harm in granting this order? The Bronx Zoo didn’t have a good answer,” Schneider said. “We look forward to discussing the harm caused by Happy’s imprisonment itself at our client’s next hearing.”

Justice Tuitt last week presided over nearly five hours of argument in Happy’s case. On Oct. 21st, the NhRP will argue—among other pending motions and the core merits of Happy’s habeas corpus petition—a motion for a preliminary injunction that would prevent the Bronx Zoo from moving Happy out of state until the case is resolved.

Earlier this year, the Orleans Supreme Court transferred Happy’s case to the Bronx after it held a widely covered habeas corpus hearing in which the NhRP argued for recognition of Happy’s legal personhood and fundamental right to liberty. This was the first such hearing on behalf of an elephant in legal history.

Alongside the NhRP’s litigation, its grassroots advocacy campaign on behalf of Happy has gained significant momentum, drawing the support of influential public figures such as Queen guitarist Brian May, elected officials such as New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and animal advocates in New York and around the world. A petition for Happy’s release from solitary confinement has over a million signatures and continues to grow.

CASE NAME/NO: THE NONHUMAN RIGHTS PROJECT, INC. on behalf of HAPPY, Petitioner, v. JAMES J. BREHENY, in his official capacity as Executive Vice President and General Director of Zoos and Aquariums of the Wildlife Conservation Society and Director of the Bronx Zoo, and WILDLIFE CONSERVATION SOCIETY (Bronx County Index No. 260441/2019).

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