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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
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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 in a 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.

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