Why We Should Change How We Talk About Nonhuman Animals
A Sentience Article from All-Creatures.org

FROM Debra Merskin, Carrie P. Freeman and Alicia Graef, Independent Media Institute
July 2021

We are past the point of needing scientific evidence that animals are conscious beings, and it is time to update the way we talk and write about them to recognize this fact.

Piia Anttonen, director of Tuulispää Animal Sanctuary in Finland, with a rescued chicken. (Photo credit: Jo-Anne McArthur/WeAnimals)

We wouldn’t say “it” or “that” when referring to humans, so why would we for other sentient individuals?

Happy has to be one of the most ironic names for an Asian elephant whose living conditions have prompted groundbreaking legal action on her behalf. Her advocates are certain that she is not happy at all and are seeking to free her from her current confines.

Happy was born in the wild but was captured as a calf in the early 1970s. She ended up at the Bronx Zoo in New York City a few years later, where she’s been ever since.

Given what we know about how physically and psychologically detrimental captivity is for elephants and how vastly different their lives are in the wild, it’s virtually impossible to draw the conclusion that Happy is content at all after enduring decades of confinement that include years of isolation.

We also know that she’s a sentient being, which means she is self-aware—in 2006 she became the first elephant ever documented to pass the “mirror self-recognition test”—and she’s the first elephant to be considered in court for legal personhood under a writ of habeas corpus.

Her lawyers at the Nonhuman Rights Project argue that Happy possesses such complex cognitive, emotional and social abilities and deserves fundamental rights to “bodily liberty” and “bodily integrity”—something we are automatically granted just by virtue of being born human.

Elephant Happy
Happy the elephant lives in solitary confinement at the Bronx Zoo



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