Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Why Non-Humans Should Be Granted Personhood Rights

By Lori Marino, Aeon

Happy is a 51-year-old Asian elephant in the Bronx Zoo in New York City. But she didn’t start out there. She was born in the wild then kidnapped – taken away from her family as a baby in Thailand – and sold, along with six other calves, to Lion Country Safari, Inc in California. In 1977, Happy and another elephant, Grumpy (all were named after the seven dwarfs in Snow White) were relocated to the Bronx Zoo to be part of a new exhibit. There, through a good part of the 1980s, she was forced to give rides to visitors, engage in a staged ‘tug of war’ with Grumpy, and perform unnatural behaviours like hind-leg stands and sit-ups. Then, in 2002, Grumpy was attacked by two other adult female elephants there, Patty and Maxine, and was euthanised. Happy was separated permanently from the two and a young female, Sammie, was brought in to keep her company; but not long after, Sammie was euthanised after suffering kidney failure. And Maxine died in 2018. Now, in order to ‘protect’ her, Happy is kept separately from Patty.

Had she not been abducted, Happy would be living in a complex, strongly bonded social group of other females and their children, enjoying life as a mother, daughter, cousin and friend to others. With her group, she would traverse 8-12 km every day searching for a broad range of different foods to enjoy. And, as a highly intelligent autonomous being, she would have been in charge of her world and made decisions about every aspect of her life – what to do, where to go, whom to mate with, whom to spend time with, what to eat, how to raise her children: all of it. Instead, she lives alone inside a small holding facility lined with cages and is let out into a one-acre yard.

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