Happy is a 46-year-old elephant at the Bronx Zoo. From the tram, people can see her in her enclosure, alone, which is how she has lived since her companion died 13 years ago.

Animal rights activists have long argued she should be released to a sanctuary, calling her isolation inhumane.

"You're not really seeing an elephant when you look at a captive situation like this; you're seeing kind of a shell of an elephant," said Kevin Schneider of the Nonhuman Rights Project.

This week, the "Free Happy" campaign picked up new momentum on social media, gaining a promise by New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, whose district includes the zoo, to look into the matter.

The Nonhuman Rights Project is an animal rights group that argues Happy should have the same legal protections as people. It filed a lawsuit in upstate Orleans County, arguing that the elephant is being unlawfully imprisoned and should be freed. But last fall, the case was sent to the Bronx Court.

"You can treat her to these standards, feed her, check her levels," Schneider said. "But do you have the right own her and keep her in this, essentially solitary confinement? And we argue that no."

Michael Judge, a biology professor at Manhattan College, has not studied Happy but says caution is needed before changing any animal's habitat.

"Elephants and other animals have a wide diversity of different behaviors, and it's hard for us to predict what might happen when they change circumstances," Judge said. "When I move my animals around, I know they don't behave the same in a laboratory as they do out in the field. That's probably true for Happy as well."

NY1 reached out to the Bronx Zoo, but we were not granted an on-camera interview or permission to film Happy. In a statement, a spokesman said the information that is circulating about the elephant is "inaccurate and misleading."

The spokesman also said that moving Happy could cause the elephant harm because of her advanced age, and said she is very well cared for at the zoo.

Three years ago, the Nonhuman Rights Project tried to get a pair of chimpanzees released to a sanctuary, but an appeals court ruled chimps are not legal persons who have a right to be free. A Bronx judge has yet to decide whether to hear Happy's case.


Cellphone image of Happy above courtesy of Yashar/Twitter.