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New NYC Bill to Ban Elephant Captivity Could Free “Happy” the Elephant

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New NYC Bill to Ban Elephant Captivity Could Free “Happy” the Elephant

Press conference of the new bill to ban elephant captivity in NYC

NYC Council Member Shahana Hanif has introduced a bill to ban elephant captivity in New York City which could force Bronx Zoo to release the elephants Happy and Patty to a sanctuary

Happy the elephant in Bronx zoo
Happy, the unhappy elephant who has been stuck in the Bronx Zoo for decades.

New York, May 14th, 2023 —  Council Member Shahana Hanif has introduced a bill to ban elephant captivity in New York City. The bill, named “Keeping, Restraint, or Possession of Elephants” (Int 0963-2023), builds on existing city and state laws that prohibit the use of elephants in circuses. Its co-sponsors include Council Members Abreu, Rivera, Richardson, Jordan, Krishnan, Cabán, Avilés, Gutiérrez and Nurse. If passed, this bill would be the first elephant captivity ban in the United States passed in a city that currently has elephants in captivity. The Bronx Zoo is currently holding two elephants, Happy and Patty.

Under the proposed legislation, all forms of elephant captivity would be banned with strict requirements for any exceptions. Any entity in New York City looking to continue keeping elephants would have to meet stringent conditions that would allow the elephants to live as freely as possible. If any entity could not meet these standards, they would have to relocate them to a sanctuary that meets their complex needs.

The bill is supported by the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) and Voters For Animal Rights (VFAR). Elephant advocate Courtney Fern spoke with UnchainedTV’s Jane Velez-Mitchell about this crucial bill and you can watch the conversation here:

The First Legislation to Ban Elephant Captivity in the USA

Courtney Fern from NhRP holding a placard
Courtney Fern from NhRP

Courtney Fern is the Director of Government Relations and Campaigns for the Nonhuman Rights Project. She oversees the organization’s legislative and grassroots advocacy. Fern is a graduate of the University of Southern California and the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law of Arizona State University. She explains where this  proposed legislation stands now:

“This would be groundbreaking legislation. If passed, it would be the first elephant captivity ban bill passed in the United States. Right now, we are seeking additional co-sponsors for the legislation. It currently has 11 co-sponsors and we hope to have a hearing before the health committee sometime in the fall of 2023.”

Experts have shown that elephants are cognitively, emotionally, and socially complex animals who suffer when confined in small environments, such as zoos. In captivity, elephants experience painful physical ailments from standing on hard, unnatural surfaces, as well as emotional trauma from being unable to roam freely and interact with other elephants as they would do in the wild.

Council Member Shahana Hanif said the following when she introduced the bill: “No other City has passed legislation to ban elephant captivity, and I’m proud New York City will be the first. I’m proud to introduce this new legislation today to set new humane standards around elephant captivity in our city. These regulations will ensure the complex social-emotional needs of elephants are met and if they can’t be, then this bill requires elephants be released to a sanctuary.”

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“I’m proud to stand with the Nonhuman Rights Project to ensure all living beings in our City are treated with dignity.” – NYC Council Member Shahana Hanif

Could Happy the Elephant Be Freed?

Happy the elephant
Happy the elephant at Bronx Zoo (c) NhRP

From 2018 to 2022, an elephant in the Bronx Zoo named Happy, was the NhRP’s client in a court case that reached the New York Court of Appeals and resulted in two judges dissenting and criticizing Happy’s continued confinement. Born in the wild in Thailand in the early 1970s and imported to the United States, Happy has been held captive at the Bronx Zoo for almost half a century. She made news as the first elephant in the world to have habeas corpus hearings to determine the lawfulness of her captivity. Since 2006, she has been held alone in captivity in the Bronx Zoo following the deaths of her two companions.

In 2020, Bronx Supreme Court Justice Alison Y. Tuitt wrote of Happy’s captivity, “The arguments advanced by the NhRP are extremely persuasive for transferring Happy from her solitary, lonely, one-acre exhibit at the Bronx Zoo to an elephant sanctuary … [Happy] is an intelligent, autonomous being who should be treated with respect and dignity.

17 Years of Solitary Confinement for No Crime

Courtney Fern explains why legislation to ban elephant captivity is what is needed now to release both Happy and Patty, who are held in separate enclosures in the zoo: “Happy’s case was truly historic. Unfortunately, the majority of the court ruled that Happy did not have the common law right to body liberty protected by Habeus Corpus and therefore she is still being detained at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo where she’s been held captive for 46 years — the past 17 years she’s been held alone in solitary confinement. So, the status of the case is that it is concluded, which is why we’ve moved towards a legislative path.”

“I think people are starting to realize, especially with certain species, that they should no longer be held captive in environments such as zoos and should be sent to sanctuaries where they can live out the rest of their lives.” — Courtney Fern, NhRP

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