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An Outside/In and Civics 101 collaboration: Should animals have human rights?

 Shanthi, a female Asian elephant, in Smithsonian's National Zoo (2016).
Adam Mason
Smithsonian's National Zoo
Shanthi, a female Asian elephant, in Smithsonian's National Zoo. (2016)

Happy has lived in New York City’s Bronx Zoo for years. To visitors, she’s a lone Asian elephant. But to a team of animal rights lawyers, she’s a prisoner.

They’ve petitioned state courts for a writ of Habeas Corpus: a legal maneuver that, if granted, would declare Happy a legal person who deserves to be freed. It’s the latest case in an ongoing fight to extend basic human rights to animals and could have big repercussions in the natural world. We always hear about the animal rights movement, but what rights do animals actually have?

Because this is a case that deals with animals and the law, two podcasts from New Hampshire Public Radio that tackle these subjects — Outside/In and Civics 101 — have teamed up to tell this story.

Featuring Maneesha Deckha and Kevin Schneider.

Learn more:

Listen and subscribe to Civics 101 and Outside/In.

Check out which animals don’t get covered by the country’s biggest anti-cruelty law, the Animal Welfare Act, here.

Nonhuman Rights Project founder, Steven Wise, explained why he compares the plight of nonhuman animals to the plight of enslaved people ina wide-ranging interview with University of Toronto law professor Angela Fernandez in 2018.

The New Yorker wrote about Happy the elephant’s legal case earlier this year.

You can rent the HBO Documentary about Tommy the chimpanzee, Unlocking the Cage, on Apple TV.

We weren’t able to dive into it in this episode, but Maneesha Deckha has made a compelling case for not fighting for personhood for animals – instead, she argues there should be a distinct third classification known as “legal beings.” Check out her lecture on it here.

Before joining New Hampshire Public Radio in February 2022, Nate covered public lands, federal agencies and tribal affairs as a reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, a consortium of NPR member stations in the region. Nate's work has aired on NPR, BBC, CBC and other outlets.
Hannah McCarthy first came to NHPR an intern in 2015, returned as a Fellow the following year and then bounced around as a reporter and producer before landing as co-host of Civics 101. She has reported on everything from the opioid epidemic to State House politics to haunted woods of New Hampshire.
Nick has been the co-host and Education Outreach Producer for Civics 101 since 2018, where he creates episodes and works with teachers across the country to design lesson plans to pair with the show.
Outside/In is a show where curiosity and the natural world collide. Click here for podcast episodes and more.
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