Legal battle over elephant’s stay at Bronx Zoo
BY JASON COHEN
A legal battle over whether an
elephant has legal rights and if it
should stay in the Bronx Zoo or
be relocated to an elephant sanctuary
concluded its arguments
two weeks ago.
On Monday, January 6, the
non-profi t group Nonhuman
Rights Project (NhRP) argued
for a third time in the Bronx Supreme
Court to free Happy the elephant
from solitary confi nement
in the Bronx Zoo.
“The argument that the NhRP
makes is that Happy is a person,”
said NhRP president Steven
In total, they stated their case
for 13 hours, which began in September.
Wise, who has worked for
decades as an animal protection
attorney, explained that his organization
and experts argued that
Happy has rights and should live
with other elephants.
Happy resides on an acre of
land, but if relocated to the Elephant
Sanctuary in Tennessee
would have 2,600 acres and be
with 10 to 15 elephants.
“Elephants are incredibly
social,” he said. “It’s not hard
to imagine that her life would
Happy was born in Malaysia
in 1971 and spent a few years in
California before being relocated
to the Bronx in 1977.
In her 40 plus years at the zoo,
she has lived with three other elephants,
but for the past 17 years
has been alone.
Happy’s proof of autonomy
was evident in 2005, when she became
the fi rst elephant to ‘pass’
the mirror self-recognition test,
considered to be an indicator of
self-awareness. The mirror test is
a behavioral technique developed
in 1970 by psychologist Gordon
Gallup Jr. as an attempt to determine
whether an animal possesses
the ability of visual selfrecognition
Wise said he hopes to have
a resolution in the next few
“We think our arguments are
excellent,” he remarked. “Bronx
Zoo experts didn’t say it was
wrong to move Happy.”
An animal rights group and the Bronz Zoo are in a legal battle over the future of
Happy the Elephant. Photo Courtesy Gigi Glendinning
However, the Bronx Zoo argues
against NhRP’s assertion
that Happy should be moved.
The zoo is confi dent the court
will rule against NhRP based on
existing controlling precedent
set by all four departments of
the appellate division of the New
York State court system.
Twenty-three judges, in New
York have already ruled against
NhRP in similar petitions.
“NhRP attorneys say it is because
the judges don’t understand
the law,” a statement by the
Zoo said. “We contend the judges
do understand the law and understand
it very well. New York State
courts have consistently ruled
against NhRP and nothing was
argued in court today or at any
point during these proceedings to
change this precedent.”
The zoo further contends that
they have taken care of Happy for
years and always meet her needs.
“Information being perpetuated
by NhRP is inaccurate,
misleading or simply untrue
and they know it,” the statement
said. “They deliberately
misstate the truth: Happy is not
kept in isolation; Happy is not
languishing; Happy is not kept
indoors for half the year; Happy
is well cared for by professionals
with decades of experience;
and NhRP is not acting in the
interest of the animal.”
www.BXTimes.com BRONX WEEKLY January 19, 2020 2
Vacant Williamsbridge lot becomes an illegal dump site
BY KYLE VUILLE
Neighborhood litterbugs have made
home in a Williamsbridge vacant lot. The
lot at 3569 Willet Avenue, at East 213th
Street, has been vacant for the past 14
years, according to NYC Buildings Department
The longstanding neighborhood eyesore
has become a health matter and has
some area residents alarmed.
Ronald Washington and his wife,
Catherine, closed on their house just
around the corner from the lot in February
of 2019 after moving from Canarsie,
“We picked this neighborhood because
it was affordable and we see the Bronx as
an up and coming place,” Washington
Since the Washington family has
moved in, they’ve witnessed individuals
dump everything from derelict cars to refrigerators
to rotting food onto the lot.
“It’s rat infested, it’s just out of control,”
Washington said. “How can you
live in the neighborhood and have it look
Washington has fi led several complaints
The NYC Sanitation Department responded
promptly recently and removed
the offensive trash.
But Washington said as soon as sanitation
leaves people start disposing their
garbage in the lot all over again.
According to Washington, the property
owner is billed for the clean up, however
DOS would not divulge the property
DOS has cleared the property of debris
four times in the past year with the most
recent cleaning Tuesday, November 19.
The site has also been summonsed for
dirty sidewalks, according to DOS.
Because the property is privately
owned, multiple steps must be taken before
a clean up is done, according to the
The procedure requires NYC Department
of Health and Mental Hygiene to
fi rst issue the owner with a notice stating
the date the site must be cleaned by
or DOS will do the work and backcharge
Washington said he has taken photos
of the site and even tried to enlist the local
police precinct on the matter.
“The big word in capital letters is
‘HELP’,” Washington said.
Washington was surprised by his
neighbor’s lack of interest in resolving
the excessive dumping problem.
“They don’t care anymore because
it’s been happening for so long,” Washington
According to the DOB, inspectors visited
the site on Friday, January 10, 2019
and observed several abandoned cars on
The DOB issued a parking regulation
The violation was issued to the owner
of the property and was set to go to the
Offi ce of Administrative Trials and
Hearings (OATH) for a scheduled March
1 hearing, but it was rescheduled by the
respondent, and is currently slated to be
heard this April, according to the DOB.
The standard penalty for this violation
is $1,250, but the maximum penalty
As of last week, the vehicles have not
Community Board 12 district manager
George Torres said the board has
not received any complaints from residents
about this issue at board meetings.
Through the NYC Finance Department’s
webpage, Plaza Homes LLC, represented
by Alfred Basal, is listed as the
When the Bronx Times contacted
Basal, he declined to comment on the
property’s maintenance or its future
A sign warning of exposure to rat poison hangs on a post at the vacant lot on Willet Ave. in Williamsbridge.
According to the Department of Sanitation, the lot has been cleaned four times by DSNY last
year. Photo by Kyle Vuille/Schneps Media