Happy the elephant could be the first animal to have human rights | USA TODAY

Activists are arguing that Happy the elephant, who lives in the Bronx zoo, passed self-recognition indicator tests and should have human rights.

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She has four limbs, expressive eyes and likes to stroll through greenery in New York City. Happy, by species, is an Asian elephant. But is she also a person? That’s the question before New York’s highest court Wednesday in a closely watched case over whether a basic human right can be extended to an animal.

Her advocates at the Nonhuman Rights Project say yes: Happy is an autonomous, cognitively complex elephant worthy of the right reserved in law for “a person.” The Bronx Zoo, where Happy resides, says no: Through an attorney, the zoo argues Happy is neither imprisoned nor a person, but a well-cared-for elephant “respected as the magnificent creature she is.”

Happy has lived at the Bronx Zoo for 45 years. The state Court of Appeals is hearing arguments over whether she should be released through a habeas corpus proceeding, which is a way for people to challenge illegal confinement.

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