"Happy" The Bronx Zoo's Forgotten Elephant
Does the Bronx Zoo have the right to keep an intelligent, herd-oriented animal like Happy the Elephant in confinement?
The public truly does not know the condition of Happy today but by all accounts from the reporting done in 2014. Happy spends the majority of her time indoors in solitary confinement in a tiny, unnatural exhibit with no regular access to a larger outdoor exhibit and is forced to endure frigid New York winters- deprived of the social bonds which are critical to elephant welfare. As zoo officials themselves have admitted- it would be inhumane to sustain an exhibit with a single elephant.
It is as if The Bronx zoo is New York City's Guantanamo Bay and now Mayor Deblasio is its warden. New York City praises itself as being one of the greatest cities in the world and it's shameful that for the past few years the, "In Defense of Animals" (IDA), an international animal protection organization has ranked The Bronx Zoo as one of it's top five worst zoo's in the United States and Happy was pointed out as being one of the main reasons for such a poor rating.
Happy became famous in 2006 by passing the self-awareness test. Essentially, Happy looked into a mirror so she was able to see herself. Once she’s become used to the reflection in the mirror, the researchers put a white X on her forehead.
When Happy saw the X in the mirror, she started touching and exploring the mark, this meant she understood that the elephant in the mirror was herself, which means that she has a relatively advanced level of self-awareness. (We humans can’t recognize ourselves in a mirror until we’re 18 to 24 months old.)
As Gay Bradshaw describes it in her book, Elephants on the Edge:
The Mirror Self-Recognition test identifies critical levels of cognitive development, the ability to engage in abstract psychological levels of knowing that relate to the theory of mind, indicating that one is not only conscious but self-conscious.
The assumption behind the test is is that only a subject who has a sense of self, an awareness of her existence as a unique being and who acts as an instrument of her own fate is able to recognize her form in a mirror’s reflection – to know what she looks like on the “outside”.
During the test Happy along with her two elephant companions Patty and Maxine were each given the chance to show the ability of self-awareness, and only Happy was able to understand she was looking at herself. Thus, she had all the trademarks of being a self-aware creature.
Being self-aware also demonstrates that Happy has the capacity for emotion, for friendship and to develop deep social bonds with other Elephants.
Elephants, in general, are very social creatures, who need, as we humans do, to be around its own kind. To Elephants and Humans alike, being completely isolated is one of the worst tortures we can imagine.
The downside of being self-aware is the emotions that accompany it and for Happy she must have been utterly depressed when her life partner Grumpy a male elephant, who Happy had grown up with was attacked by Patty and Maxine. As a result of the attack and the injuries he sustained, Grumpy died.
Happy never got along with Patty and Maxine before the incident and if Happy did indeed have self-awareness, it is logical to assume that she held, even more, resentment toward the two for killing her best friend - as any human would.
The Zoo brought in another Elephant named Sammy to keep Happy company. The two got along very well, until, sadly Sammy passed away a few years later from a liver ailment leaving Happy once again alone.
in 2012 the New York Post, Brad Hamilton wrote about a visit to the Bronx Zoo to see the Happy, Patty and Maxine.
Happy spends most of her time indoors in a large holding facility lined with elephant cages, which are about twice the length of the animals’ bodies. The public never sees this.
The Bronx Zoo has made an effort to discredit the NY Post's story by claiming
They go on to say "While Happy does not share the same physical space with our two other elephants because they do not get along, she is in tactile and auditory contact with them."
I am sorry but not being with another elephant is solitary confinement and just because Happy can hear another Elephant does not mean she is "not isolated."
I am sure prisoners in jail can hear a lot of people, but sitting closed off from human contact in a jail cell does not make his "solitary confinement" or his "Isolation" any less so.
The zoo went on "Happy has strong bonds with her keepers, and she’s comfortable in the home she has known for more than three decades. We don't think to move her from familiar surroundings and people whom she is bonded is the right thing to do."
It's amazing that the Bronx zoo knows so much about what a self-aware elephant is feeling. Somehow with all this elephant insight they somehow missed all the warning signs in the days and weeks before Patty and Maxine's unwarranted attack that killed Grumpy? So much for their expert insight.
Advocates are pushing the Bronx Zoo to fulfill its promise to shut down the elephant exhibit. “They should do it now and send those elephants to a sanctuary,” said [Ashley] Byrne of PETA, which has been pressing the matter with the Wildlife Conservation Society, which owns the zoo.
Since Grumpy and Sammy had passed on Happy has had to live alone and in isolation from the rest of the elephant world since 2010. The Bronx zoo has claimed they want to eliminate the Elephant exhibited all together, but as far as Happy is concerned, it seems the zoos only plan for her, is to ignore her and hopes she passes away without any notice or any more bad press.
Happy belongs in an elephant sanctuary, but the zoo fears the cost of such a move and also claims the stress on such an old animal would be too great.
If Happy truly does have self-awareness and even a hint of the emotions that we do battle with every day, then Happy who, unlike any other elephant understands who she is, so she sits alone in torture and death has become something she can only hope and wish for.
I can imagine the wish for your life to be over only if you were stricken with a disease like cancer or ALS. Knowing all the options have been exhausted and only pain and anguish lie ahead, then to me, Death could not come too soon.
At this point, it does not take much imagining that Happy is feeling the incredible sadness of being so alone. it's not a stretch to think in her mind, death would be welcomed, only to finally bring the years long torture to an end.
In Happy's case at last report she was still a healthy animal, old by Elephant standards, but healthy none-the-less. We really don't know Happy's condition because The Bronx zoo has locked her away in some small unseen corner of the zoo. They do not mention her or have given out any report on her condition since 2014, For all anyone knows she could have passed on.
As it has been reported in other articles written, when the staff was questioned by reporters no one even knew Happy existed or where she was being held.
This coming season millions of people will pass through The Bronx Zoo's main gate thinking "What a wonderful place for the animals to live" In their minds, they have little doubt that the zoo takes good care of them.
I am sure their thoughts would be different if Happy could stand at that front gate and had the ability to speak, I am sure she would choose these four words "Welcome to Guantanamo Bay"
Clicking on and Picture will open our gallery viewer