“Happy” is an ironic name for what may be the loneliest elephant on the planet who has endured a long history of heartbreaking events. The Bronx Zoo, where she has lived a captive life for 40 years, ever since she was a baby, has the power to grant her a more joyful existence, but so far has resisted. Now it’s up to us to convince them to do so. Here’s why:
45-year-old Happy hasn’t tasted freedom since she was an infant in Thailand in 1971, when she was stolen from the wild, along with six other calves, who the system named after the seven dwarves. She and the calf called Grumpy were shuffled around at first and taken to zoos in Hawaii and Florida before finally landing at the Bronx Zoo in New York in 1977. They remained constant companions, and each other’s only source of comfort and hope, until 2002, when Grumpy died of injuries he sustained after being attacked by other elephants at the zoo.
Soon thereafter, the zoo brought Happy a new companion named Sammy, but that elephant died of liver disease within four years of their meeting – and this time the zoo didn’t bother trying to find her another friend.
Like Grumpy, Happy was increasingly bullied by the zoo’s other elephants and sustained multiple injuries, and so was isolated – which is known to be both emotionally and physically painful for these animals who are accustomed to running in tightly-bonded herds and being surrounded by family.
And like Sammy, she has since endured several illnesses under the zoo’s care, which is all too common among elephants kept in captivity.
Unlike Grumpy and Sammy, however, this elephant has proven herself to be a true survivor. But being isolated in a separate enclosure for more than a decade has certainly taken its toll. Most animals locked in captivity experience extreme stress that greatly affects their mental well-being, and often descends into zoochosis, which is characterized by repetitive pacing, over-grooming, and even self-mutilation. These behaviors are witnessed in approximately two-thirds of captive elephants, so it isn’t surprising that Happy feels these same frustrations on a daily basis. But on top of that, Happy must also grapple with the deep depression that her constant loneliness brings.
As the first elephant to demonstrate self-awareness in a mirror, we know that Happy is very conscious of her situation, further demonstrating how utterly cruel it is for the Bronx Zoo to keep her contained as such. Because of this, In Defense of Animals has kept the Bronx Zoo on its list of the top 10 worst zoos for elephants in America for years.
The zoo, perhaps begrudgingly, finally accepted the fact that elephant captivity is inhumane, and, following Sammy’s death, announced that it will close its elephant exhibit once Happy and its two other elephants die. But why must it force these giants to live out their final years suffering in this way, especially when The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee is more than willing to provide Happy with the happy life she deserves?
Please join us in speaking up for Happy and signing this petition on Care2, which urges the Bronx Zoo to release her to a sanctuary immediately.
Image source: Roman Tiraspolsky/Shutterstock