Charlie, at the National Zoological Gardens in Pretoria South Africa / ©EMS Foundation

ON Friday 12th August 2022 we once again observe World Elephant Day.  It is the tenth year that organizations and individuals will rally together to give a united voice to elephants.  Founded by Patricia Sims, this collective global movement continues to be acknowledged by the members of the Pro Elephant Network (PREN) 

Members of PREN specifically advocate reversing the exploitation of elephants through the culture of imprisonment, captive breeding, capture, kidnapping, abuse, exhibition, trading and killing.  

Even though there is a critical mass and ever-growing volume of scientific evidence emphasizing the problems and negative aspects that are associated with keeping elephants in captivity, there are many elephants who continue to suffer this cruel fate. 

On World Elephant Day the members of PREN are drawing attention to some examples of elephants whose current captivity continues to capture the world’s attention and focus in 2022. 

The legal fight to free Happy the elephant continues in New York, in the United States of America.  On the 14th of July 2022, the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) filed a motion to re-argue the 5 – 2 decision by New York’s highest court issued in June 2022, in a landmark case that seeks Happy’s right to liberty and release from the Bronx Zoo and her relocation to an elephant sanctuary.

The New York Court of Appeals is one of the most highly-regarded state appellate courts in the country and two of its justices dissented from the judgement with separate opinions.  Justice Rowan D. Wilson wrote, “When the majority answers, ‘No, animals cannot have rights,’ I worry for that animal, but I worry even more greatly about how that answer denies and denigrates the human capacity for understanding, empathy and compassion” and the court had a duty “to recognize Happy’s right to petition for her liberty 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.”

Judge Jenny Rivera  wrote in her dissent that “a gilded cage is still a cage. Happy may be a dignified creature, but there is nothing dignified about her captivity” and that Happy’s captivity was unjust and that “every day she remains a captive — a spectacle for humans — we, too, are diminished.”

“The New York Court of Appeals […] has created instability and confusion in New York law with grave implications for illegally confined human beings”, the NhRP writes in its motion.  If the re-argument motion is granted, the Court may order another hearing and will issue a decision explaining why it will either reverse or clarify its prior decision. 

Happy at the Bronx Zoo Image Credit: Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society

The plight of Shankar, an African male elephant from Zimbabwe, currently living in Delhi Zoo, continues.  The Delhi High Court is presently hearing a case which was filed by sixteen-year-old Nikita Dhawan, the founder of Youth for Animals, to free Shankar.  

On 6thJuly 2022, the court ruled out the possibility of sending him back to Africa. Instead, it ordered the Central Zoo Authority and the Animal Welfare Board of India to inspect his living conditions and submit a detailed report, before the 31st of August 2022 – the date when the case will be heard next. Solitary, Shankar has been seen chained and beaten in the Delhi Zoo.  

The Aspinall Foundation has offered to rehabilitate Shankar in a suitable location in Africa at their cost, but sadly the Delhi High Court has rather asked the authorities to explore the possibility of bringing in a female partner for Shankar.  “We will not permit the release of Shankar, we will keep it in India and take care of him here only.  He is ours.  We will look after him properly, don’t worry” the court said. 

Shankar at the Delhi Zoo Image Credit: Nikita Dhawan / Youth for Animals