Proposed law would ban elephant captivity in New York City

Brooklyn Councilwoman Shahana Hanif introduced a bill Thursday that would ban elephant captivity in New York City.

The proposed piece of legislation, if passed, would directly impact the Bronx Zoo, which is home to two elephants, Happy and Patty. 

"It's been found that elephants suffer greatly in captivity when they are deprived of the ability to exercise their autonomy and engage in their natural behaviors," said Courtney Fern, the director of government relations and campaigns for the Nonhuman Rights Project.

The bill would require elephants in New York City to have access to at least 15 acres of property and cannot be on public display.

According to the Nonhuman Rights Project, which worked with the councilwoman on this bill, both Happy and Patty live on only one acre.

"Captive environments such as the Bronx Zoo, which has a one-acre outdoor yard, cause extreme physical and physiological suffering for elephants. Elephants were designed to move with wild," said Fern.

Patty, an Asian elephant kept in captivity at the Bronx Zoo stands in her enclosure alone after being separated from the zoo's other remaining elephant, Happy. ( (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images))

The Nonhuman Rights Project has filed lawsuits against the Bronx Zoo in the past. In a statement to FOX 5, the Bronx Zoo says the organization is just looking for another tactic to advance an anti-zoo agenda, stating:

"The bill is full of general, boilerplate language regarding elephants, references issues that are not relevant and does not consider our two elephants as individuals with distinct personalities. The Florida-based Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) activists behind this proposed bill are lawyers with an agenda to assign personhood to elephants; they are not animal care experts. The Bronx Zoo is universally recognized as a leader in animal care, management, exhibitry, education and conservation. NhRP has harassed the Bronx Zoo for years with nuisance lawsuits in a failed attempt to force us to move the elephants. They have lost in every court ruling and are now looking for another tactic to advance an anti-zoo agenda. This proposed bill is an obvious attempt to legislate their philosophy on elephants and infringe on the ability of the Bronx Zoo to make informed decisions for individual animals in our care based on an intimate knowledge of those animals and their specific personalities and individual needs."

Bronx borough president Vanessa Gibson is against the proposed bill. She told FOX 5 Thursday evening, "As the Borough President of one of our trusted partners and cultural institutions, I believe this proposed legislation unfairly targets our Wildlife Conservation Society and staff who have a long history and deep commitment to protecting the animals in its care. For years, they have been national leaders in ensuring the highest standards of animal care and protection. I urge the Bronx Delegation and the City Council to fully consider the impact the elephant captivity legislation would have on cultural institutions like the Wildlife Conservation Society. I also welcome anyone with concerns to visit the Bronx Zoo to see firsthand the exceptional work being done to care for Happy and Patty in our Borough."

If the bill is passed, it would be the first elephant captivity ban in the U.S.