The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge DiFiore, over two dissenting opinions, determined an elephant at the Bronx Zoo (Happy) was not entitled to the protection of a writ of habeas corpus. The petition sought Happy’s transfer from the zoo to an elephant sanctuary:
For centuries, the common law writ of habeas corpus has safeguarded the liberty rights of human beings by providing a means to secure release from illegal custody. The question before us on this appeal is whether petitioner Nonhuman Rights Project may seek habeas corpus relief on behalf of Happy, an elephant residing at the Bronx Zoo, in order to secure her transfer to an elephant sanctuary. Because the writ of habeas corpus is intended to protect the liberty right of human beings to be free of unlawful confinement, it has no applicability to Happy, a nonhuman animal who is not a “person” subjected to illegal detention. Thus, while no one disputes that elephants are intelligent beings deserving of proper care and compassion, the courts below properly granted the motion to dismiss the petition for a writ of habeas corpus … . Matter of Nonhuman Rights Project, Inc. v Breheny, 2022 NY Slip Op 03859, CtApp 6-14-22
Practice Point: So far, sentient non-humans (like Happy, an elephant in the Bronx Zoo) are not entitled to the protection against “illegal custody” afforded by a writ of habeas corpus.