The Corner

Law & the Courts

Lawsuit to Declare Elephant a ‘Person’

(Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters)

“Animal rights” activists are determined to “break the species barrier” and create legal standing for animals to sue in court. Of course, the animals would be oblivious to these actions. “Animal standing,” as the issue is known, is really a Trojan Horse (pun intended) to allow animal rights extremists to seek court rulings enforcing their own ideology.

The Nonhuman Rights Project is leading this charge. Having failed to win personhood for chimpanzees — alarmingly, the idea gained support from one high court judge — it is now pursuing a case in New York to determine whether “Happy,” an elephant at the Bronx Zoo, should be granted a writ of habeas corpus. (Ponder the surreality of those words!) From The Guardian story:

Lawyers representing an elephant have argued in a New York City court that their trunked client be considered a person, in a fresh attempt to upend human dominance over this designation.

Happy the elephant is, contrary to her sunny name, being detained by the Bronx Zoo “illegally”, due to her personhood, and must be released, according to the pachyderm’s self-appointed legal team.

The case’s instigator, an animal rights group, hopes it will cause a legal breakthrough that will elevate the status of elephants, which the group calls “extraordinarily complex creatures” similar to humans that should have the fundamental right to liberty.

No. Animals are amoral. They can never have “rights,” just as they can never be held morally accountable to fulfill duties.

The suit charges that Happy is not being cared for properly:

The 47-year-old elephant has spent almost all her life in a one-acre enclosure at the Bronx Zoo after being captured along with six other calves — named Sleepy, Grumpy, Sneezy, Doc, Dopey and Bashful — in Thailand and brought to the US.

Happy and Grumpy cohabited until 2002, when they were relocated to an enclosure with two other elephants — Maxine and Patty. This arrangement turned sour when Maxine and Patty fatally attacked Grumpy. Happy has never been able to live contentedly with the duo, with a recent reconciliation attempt ending badly.

Happy’s lone captivity is anathema to the intricate social arrangements elephants have in the wild, according to experts cited by the Nonhuman Rights Project, which wants her relocated to a far larger sanctuary in California that has other elephants.

Wait a minute! Moving Happy from one place of captivity to another is not “liberty.”

That isn’t to say that Happy shouldn’t be moved to a different location where she can be with other elephants. Pacaderms are highly social.

If keeping an elephant alone is abuse — and I suspect it is — the court should require that the unacceptable status quo be remedied. But the case should be decided based on a proper animal welfare analysis, not the fallacious “rights” invention that seeks to diminish human beings into just another animal in the forest.

The distinction between animal rights and animal welfare is crucial. Animal rights is an ideology that humans and animals are equal. Thus PETA once argued that owning a leather couch is the moral equivalent of purchasing a lamp made from human skin from Auschwitz. Animal-rights believers believe that there should be no human ownership of animals for any reason.

In contrast, animal welfare sees the proper care of animals as a human duty in keeping with our exceptionalism. This approach accepts the propriety of making instrumental use of animals, but requires us to do so for proper reasons and in a humane manner, based on the particular characteristics of the animals in question.

A lot of people think they believe in animal rights when they actually support a vigorous approach to animal welfare. For far more, see my book A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement.

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