53 Years old | female | Asian | wild
Bronx Zoo (New York, NY)

Happy is an Asian elephant currently held at the Bronx Zoo in New York, NY. She was born in the wild in 1971. Happy is confined with 1 other elephant, and both suffer from their facility’s lack of sufficient space and from being unable to engage in their natural behaviors.

Happy's Story

Happy is a 52 year old female Asian elephant who was born in the wild in 1971. “Captured as a baby, probably from Thailand, in the early 1970s, along with six other calves, possibly from the same herd,” according to The New York Times, she was imported to the US and sold for $800 to the now defunct Lion Country Safari in California, which named the calves after the dwarves in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. That same year, Sleepy died, and the corporation relocated Happy, Grumpy, Sneezy, Doc, Dopey, and Bashful to the still-operational Lion Country Safari in Florida.

In 1977, the proprietors relocated all six elephants to circuses and zoos across the US. Happy and Grumpy were sent to the Bronx Zoo (managed by the Wildlife Conservation Society, formerly the New York Zoological Society) to be part of the newly created Wild Asia Monorail exhibit (then called the Bengali Express Monorail). There, in addition to displaying the elephants, the zoo, through the 1980s, compelled them to give rides, participate in tug-of-war contests, and perform tricks, as publicized by The New York Times (“Fordham’s Rams Defeat Zoo’s Elephant in Bronx,” “Two-Day Party in Celebration of Elephants at Bronx Zoo”) and The New Yorker (“Elephant Extravaganza”). Of Happy’s demeanor and role in these purportedly educational shows, the elephants’ “low-key, no nonsense trainer” said: “Happy is a more physical elephant than anything I’ve ever seen … Most people, when they train elephants, cats, horses or whatever, usually turn them loose and just watch them for hours. Then you can figure what trick to put on each elephant. Happy runs more, she moves more, she’s rougher. That’s why I put all the physical tricks on her: the hind-leg stand, the sit-up.”

In 2002, the Bronx Zoo euthanized Grumpy after she was attacked by two other elephants held in captivity there. The zoo separated Happy from Patty and Maxine and introduced a younger female Asian elephant named Sammie to be Happy’s companion.

In 2005, Happy became the first elephant to “pass” the mirror self-recognition test, considered to be an indicator of self-awareness.

That same year, the Bronx Zoo euthanized Sammie after she suffered kidney failure. Shortly after, the zoo announced it would end its captive elephant program once one or more of the elephants had died: “If two die, officials say it would be inhumane to sustain an exhibit with a single elephant.”

From 2006 to the present, to protect Happy from the other elephants and with assurances from zoo director Jim Breheny that Happy is sufficiently happy where she is, “The Bronx Zoo’s Loneliest Elephant” has lived alone, without a true elephant companion, in a rotating portion of the 1.15-acre exhibit. According to The New York Post, “Happy spends most of her time indoors in a large holding facility lined with elephant cages, which are about twice the length of the animals’ bodies. The public never sees this.”

In November of 2018, Maxine died, leaving Patty and Happy each alone in the exhibit.

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