Last week, the Los Angeles Times reported a horrible tragedy that took place at Thailand’s Khao Yai National Park. At least 11 elephants died after plunging over the Haew Narok Waterfall in a vain attempt to save a calf. The very short report said the death toll had risen since earlier in the week when officials first found six of the elephants that had died trying to prevent the three month old from drowning.

Courtesy Los Angeles Times

Elephants are herd animals with strong social bonds in tight families. They will rally around to protect each other, especially the young. I’ve certainly seen enough wildlife shows to verify this action.

Last week, I also read an article that discussed the concept of “pointing” in apes. The idea was that animals could be considered more sentient if they understood that pointing meant a direction or that it was a directive and could perform the act themselves. It discussed a theory that went back several decades. I read with amazement as I thought, are they kidding? A monkey once told me exactly how to deliver the peanut he wanted by pointing to his prehensile tail. I was offering up the nut as he ran atop a grid above me at some kind of monkey zoo in Florida I visited many years ago. I couldn’t reach his hand so he pointed directly to his tail that swung down through the grid. Finally, this stupid human got what he was telling me. I put the peanut at the tip of his tail and he grabbed it and brought it up to his hand and ate the nut. Back then, I really was amazed. I had a successful communication with a monkey. That was in the early-mid 1970s!

Scientists, ethicists and the courts today are still debating whether or not animals should have rights. They debate their emotions, their needs and all sorts of things that are so self evident, you want to throw up your hands and punch them all in the face.

THE NONHUMAN RIGHTS PROJECTS (NhRP)

It starts with the premise that animals are sentient beings. They think. They feel. They are not simply property for us to do with as we please. There must be consideration. There must be empathy . There must be rights afforded to them.

Not someday. But today.

That’s where The Nonhuman Rights Project comes in. They advertise themselves as the only civil rights organization in the United States dedicated solely to securing rights for nonhuman animals through litigation, legislation, and education. Their main objection is defined thus: “To change the common law status of great apes, elephants, dolphins, and whales from mere “things,” which lack the capacity to possess any legal right, to “legal persons,” who possess such fundamental rights as bodily liberty and bodily integrity.” Their work is to be applauded.

Right now, among other cases, they are battling it out with New York’s Bronx Zoo that wants to keep a lone elephant in captivity. NhRP would like to see the elephant named “Happy”, of all implausible things, released to a sanctuary. Keeping any kind of herd animal alone in captivity is abuse in and of itself. The Bronx Zoo defends its action by using a Bronx County Supreme Court ruling from 2014 which asserted that to be a legal person with even a single legal right you have to be able to bear duties and responsibilities.

Happy the Elephant
Happy at Bronx Zoo, New York. Photo: Gigi Glendinning

Patently absurd. A human baby cannot bear duties and responsibilities and yet it very clearly is a legal person under our laws. A person deemed legally insane cannot bear duties and responsibilities; nor can any number of other incapacitated individuals. And yet no one has suggested they can be easily deprived of any rights whatsoever.

Why are certain venues adamant in opposing legal rights for animals? Greed. They operate for profit and they are willing to torture a single animal for the pleasure of their continued profits. The Bronx Zoo’s lone elephant “Happy”, who against all common sense standards, is relegated to a solitary existence and is most likely being driven insane. Yet, the Bronx Zoo resists all efforts by NhRP to get Happy transferred to a sanctuary. Would Happy’s absence from the Zoo really create a terrible hardship to them? NO. But of course it might set a precedent against their never-ending profit scheme to keep elephants or any other species in captivity. Not just the Bronx Zoo, of course, but many more that operate just like it. A sanctuary, on the other hand, would afford animals the right to form their own families and bonds and allow them space to interact with their own kind and breed with whom they choose.

We humans have done great injustices to other species for so long, it’s high time for us to do the right thing. The Nonhuman Rights Projects is their salvation. It has taken basic animal rights a step farther. Now if only the courts will do the right thing and secure animal rights on the level they deserve.

To read more about NhRP’s client Happy the elephant and to see a timeline of events, go to https://www.nonhumanrights.org/client-happy/ What is particularly sad is that the timeline shows that Happy will probably be dead by the time U.S. courts defend common sense principles.

An interesting discussion on the subject can be found here https://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/can-elephants-be-persons