Happy the Elephant Doesn’t Have Human Rights, Court Finds

Good morning. It’s Wednesday. We’ll look at a court ruling that said Happy the Elephant does not have the same rights as a human. We’ll also look at Mayor Eric Adams’s planned endorsement of Gov. Kathy Hochul and his blueprint for tackling the city’s housing crisis.

Credit…Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press

It is one of the most fundamental principles in Western law: habeas corpus. New York State’s highest court says it does not apply to Happy the Elephant.

The court, in a 5-to-2 vote, turned down an animal-advocacy organization’s request that Happy be “recognized as a legal person” and released from “unlawful imprisonment” at the Bronx Zoo, where she has lived since 1977.

Habeas corpus — a safeguard against unlawful imprisonment — is a procedural vehicle “intended to protect the liberty right of human beings,” Janet DiFiore, the chief judge, wrote, putting the last two words in italics. While she said habeas corpus was “flexible,” extending it to Happy “would far exceed its bounds.” She said it had “no applicability” to “a nonhuman animal who is not a ‘person’ subjected to illegal detention.”

Judge Rowan Wilson, one of the two dissenters in the case involving Happy the Elephant, said the court should grant habeas corpus for Happy “not just because she is a wild animal who is not meant to be caged and displayed, but because the rights we confer on others define who we are as a society.”

My colleague Ed Shanahan writes that the ruling ended what appeared to be the first case of its kind to reach so high a court in the United States. And it probably won’t quiet the debate over whether intelligent animals should be viewed as something other than things or property.

Happy’s case was pleaded by the Nonhuman Rights Group, which wanted her moved to an elephant sanctuary that it said would be a more natural setting and would improve her quality of life. “She’s a depressed, screwed-up elephant,” Stephen Wise, the group’s founder, said before the decision was issued.

The Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs the zoo, said before the ruling that Happy was “well cared for by professionals with decades of experience and with whom she is strongly bonded,” adding that the case amounted to “blatant exploitation.”

Stephen Gillers, a professor at the New York University School of Law, said the decision was correct.

“I think animals in captivity need protection, and maybe the statutory laws should be strengthened to be sure that they’re well protected,” he told me. “The seals in the Central Park Zoo look pretty smart to me. They know when the food is coming. For every species, you could gather up proof of a level of intelligence that warrants legal protection through the courts.”

“This,” he said, “is too nuanced for judicial rule-making.”

But Laurence Tribe, a Harvard Law School legal scholar, who filed a brief in support of Happy’s case, called the court’s decision “disappointing but not surprising.”

“I regret what this means for Happy the Elephant,” he told me. “It’s an instance of judicial blindness for the court to say that because we have not recognized the rights of sentient and social animals like elephants, we can’t extend habeas corpus to them.”


Enjoy a sunny day in the low 80s. At night, prepare for a chance of showers, with temperatures dropping to the mid-60s.


In effect until Monday (Juneteenth).

An 11th-hour endorsement for Hochul

In her campaign for a full term, Gov. Kathy Hochul has lined up the backing of nearly every major Democrat in New York State except one — Mayor Eric Adams.

Adams plans to announce his support for Hochul today. My colleague Nicholas Fandos writes that it’s a significant last-minute endorsement that could help her firm up support among voters in New York City as the June 28 primary approaches.

Adams said in a statement shared with The New York Times that Hochul was “a true partner, working on behalf of everyday New Yorkers.” He said that he and Hochul had realized that “we shared the same priorities” of improving public safety and access to child care and housing, along with making New York more affordable for working people.

He said he looked forward to continuing to work with Hochul “for years to come.”

How much of a difference the endorsement will make with voters is likely to depend on whether Adams fully engages the political network that won him the job in City Hall. Hochul has struggled to make inroads and generate enthusiasm among Black voters in Brooklyn and Queens and Latino voters in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx who supported Adams last year and have long formed the base of winning Democratic coalitions statewide.

The latest New York news

Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times


  • A splashy, seven-story investment: Hypebeast, the streetwear giant, is opening a new store and headquarters in Lower Manhattan. To its founder, the move is more than just a flex for the market.

  • Tell us about R.T.O.: Many office employees across the United States have been called back to the workplace. We want to know how that’s going.

  • Where to eat upstate: The Catskills can offer an escape from the city’s overtaxed dining scene. Here are five new restaurants to try.

Arts & Culture

  • A new season at the Public: The Public Theater’s 2022-23 season will feature a mix of works rooted in history and new pieces that speak to current cultural shifts toward racial justice, equity and disability rights.

  • 4,000th Broadway performance: As “The Book of Mormon” celebrates its 4,000th performance. the musical’s three original cast members discussed its history, reception and staying power.

  • Where did Bedford Avenue go?: Curbed reported on how Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn was temporarily renamed … by a tech bug.

A plan to fix the housing crisis

Credit…Kirsten Luce for The New York Times

Mayor Eric Adams laid out a blueprint to increase homeownership, reduce street homelessness and improve public housing. But housing groups say his budget for housing, $1.8 billion a year less than he had promised when he ran for mayor, will not be enough.

Adams said the success of his plan would depend on how many people the city placed in housing, though he repeatedly declined to set a specific goal. “As many people as possible,” he said. “I’m not playing these numbers.”

To do that, he called for expanding affordable housing by creating new incentives for developers to build residential units. He wants the city to try new ways to preserve existing below-market units. He also promised modest increases in city programs that subsidize and support homeownership.

[Adams Announces Plan to Fix New York City’s Growing Housing Crisis]

But the plan included relatively few details, and some of the changes it called for are far from certain, such as rewriting the city’s zoning laws to permit larger affordable-housing developments.

He released the plan he day after the City Council approved a new city budget, negotiated with him, that will add $5 billion to affordable housing programs over 10 years. That will bring the city’s total investment in affordable housing to $22 billion over that period — a record amount, but at $2.2 billion a year, well below the $4 billion he called for during the campaign last year.

The mayor’s plan also calls for significant quality-of-life upgrades at the New York City Housing Authority, which has 400,000 residents across the city.

Adams said the plan reflected feedback from renters, homeless people and real estate industry stakeholders. He also cited personal observations from his six months as mayor, including an unverifiable claim that he had spent substantial time in homeless encampments.

The response to the plan was largely favorable from groups that represent landlords, which singled out his promise to cut red tape. Advocates for affordable housing lamented what they said was a lack of boldness.


Folding roses

Dear Diary:

I was rushing out of the Canal Street station when I saw him: a teenage boy, hunched over a table and methodically folding origami roses to sell.

The roses — blue, yellow, red and every color in between — were fanned out around him in stacks that were already four or five flowers deep.

I was late, so I didn’t pause. But as I walked away, I wondered how he would fare that day. I hadn’t noticed anyone else giving him even a passing glance as they left the station. How often does he make a sale? Was he out here every weekend?

Later, I was in SoHo walking behind a man and a woman who were moving along slowly, their pinkies linked. My eye caught a blue origami rose sticking out of her backpack.

I smiled. It was a twofer: a sale and love in one.

— Connie Long

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.

Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Melissa Guerrero, Jeff Boda and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].


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