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People (not animal) persons

Court considers whether to grant legal personhood to an elephant at the Bronx Zoo

Happy the elephant Nonhuman Rights Project/Photo by Gigi Glendinning

People (not animal) persons

Happy the elephant is anything but in her 1-acre enclosure at New York’s Bronx Zoo, according to attorneys with the Nonhuman Rights Project. Late last month, her lawyers asked a judge to grant legal personhood to the 48-year-old pachyderm. The group hopes not only to gain freedom for Happy but to elevate the legal status of all elephants.

Elephant expert Joyce Poole, who studied videos of Happy, said she engages in unnatural, repetitive behavior like swinging her trunk or standing with one or two legs lifted off the ground, indicating stress. Poole described elephants as emotionally and socially complex creatures who often develop serious physical and emotional difficulties when living alone in small spaces. Scientists said Happy can recognize herself in a mirror and has self-awareness. More than 1.1 million people have signed an online petition for her release.

Research has consistently shown that elephants are highly intelligent. In nature, they organize themselves into families and social groups, develop distinct individual mannerisms, and grieve the death of companions. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a WORLD News Group board member, noted on his podcast The Briefing that although “there is something sweet about that,” Christians should understand and accept the differences between animals and humans. Scripture says God created only humans in His image. Believers have a responsibility to care for the animals He created. But, Mohler said, the Nonhuman Rights Project’s agenda would “dethrone human beings as having any unique status when it comes to human personhood.”

Elephant hunters captured Happy as a calf in Thailand and brought her to the United States in the 1970s. Until 2002, she shared her enclosure with Grumpy, a calf captured at the same time. Zoo officials relocated Happy and Grumpy to an enclosure with two other elephants, Maxine and Patty, but the move didn’t go well. Maxine and Patty eventually attacked and killed Grumpy. Because Happy never got along with the pair, the zoo moved her to a solitary enclosure. The Wildlife Conservation Society that runs the Bronx Zoo said other elephants tend to bully Happy due to her submissive nature.

Mohler suggested that the same logic that would lead the court to grant Happy legal personhood would require it to charge Maxine and Patty with the murder of Grumpy.

Previous attempts by the Nonhuman Rights Project to change the legal status of animals have proven unsuccessful. In 2017, a New York appeals court denied personhood to two chimpanzees kept in captivity in the state. And in August, a Connecticut court denied personhood to three other elephants.

“The Biblical worldview does not affirm that human beings can grant anyone rights, nor that any secular or human source has granted us rights,” Mohler said. “The role of government … is not to believe that it can, or has, granted rights to anyone but is rather to respect and recognize rights that had been granted by the creator.”

Happy’s next court date is set for Jan. 6.


Penicillin allergy overdiagnosed

Fewer than 1 percent of the 30 million people in the United States who think they have a penicillin allergy actually do, researchers predicted in a study published Oct. 23 in the journal Open Forum Infectious Diseases.

Christopher Bland, a clinical associate professor at the University of Georgia College of Pharmacy, said people often confuse a one-time side effect with an allergic reaction. Research shows that half of the people who experienced an allergic reaction don’t show evidence of an allergy five years later. After 10 years, that number jumped to 80 percent.

Penicillin remains the most effective and low-cost antibiotic available with the fewest side effects. Allergy specialists can test patients for a penicillin allergy, but the procedure is costly, and many hospitals don’t employ trained allergists. Bland and Bruce Jones, an infectious diseases clinical pharmacy specialist at St. Joseph’s/Candler Health System in Savannah, Ga., devised a simple program that begins with a one-page questionnaire. In a different study, researchers discovered the questionnaire alone could reduce the number of people who think they have a penicillin allergy by 20 percent. A follow-up skin test administered by a nurse showed that 90 out of 100 patients with a penicillin allergy listed on their medical record showed no allergy.

Researchers are working with more than 50 hospitals throughout the country to implement their assessments. “Our team is on a mission right now,” Bland said. “Our goal is that every penicillin allergy is questioned and reconciled, with most coming off medical records and allowing patients to get the best antibiotic for their particular infection, which is often a penicillin.” —J.B.


A gentleman scholar

Scientists and scholars paid tribute this week to Phillip E. Johnson, dubbed the “godfather” of the intelligent design movement. Johnson died over the weekend at age 79.

On the Discovery Institute’s blog Evolution News and Science Today, Icons of Evolution author Jonathan Wells described how he wanted to “stand up and cheer” after finishing Johnson’s 1991 book Darwin on Trial for the first time. Discovery Institute fellow Paul Nelson compared Johnson to George Orwell: “pithy, clear-sighted, steadily pursuing illogic, cant, and self-serving assumptions to their sources.”

Beyond Johnson’s academic career and leading intellect—he taught law at the University of California, Berkeley, for three decades—many fondly remembered him as a friend. They noted Johnson’s civility toward those who disagreed with him, evidenced in his longtime friendship with atheist scholar Will Provine. At The Gospel Coalition, Fred Sanders recounted the conversion and personal life that strengthened and supported Johnson. “The Johnson household was a non-stop engine of good works and big ideas,” he said. And John Mark N. Reynolds, a Discovery Institute associate and president of The Saint Constantine School in Houston, wrote that his children called Johnson “Gandalf,” a man full of wisdom and new ideas up to the end. —Rachel Lynn Aldrich


An out-of-this-world hotel

It may be a bit premature to plan a vacation in outer space, but the Gateway Foundation hopes to launch the first space hotel, the Von Braun Station, as soon as 2027.

The private aerospace company said it is planning a wheel design with varying rotation speeds to produce different simulated gravities. The spacecraft will sleep 352 people with a maximum capacity of 450. Designers want the hotel to sport carpeted suites, chic bars, and outer space recreational activities, Tim Alatorre, Gateway’s senior design architect, told CNN. “Because of the weightlessness and the reduced gravity, you’ll be able to jump higher, be able to lift things, be able to run in ways that you can’t on Earth,” he said.

A vacation aboard the space hotel would carry a steep price tag at first, but the foundation hopes to one day make it as affordable as a cruise or a trip to Disney World.

Another space tech company, Orion Span, also has released plans for a luxury space hotel it hopes to launch in 2022. —J.B.


A relaxing drive

Researchers at the University of Richmond in Virginia taught rats to drive miniature cars. To the scientists’ surprise, the rats that drove showed lower stress levels than rats that rode as passengers in remote-controlled cars during the study, the results of which were published Oct. 16 in Behavioural Brain Research.

The results could shed light on the interactions of brain functioning, motivation, depression, and disease in humans, researcher Kelly Lambert told The Washington Post.

The scientists taught the rats to grip three copper bars with their paws to drive the electric vehicles. When the rats moved the cars forward, researchers rewarded them with a piece of Froot Loops cereal. They determined the rats’ tension levels by testing their feces for stress hormones. —J.B.

Julie Borg

Julie is a WORLD contributor who covers science and intelligent design. A clinical psychologist and a World Journalism Institute graduate, Julie resides in Dayton, Ohio.

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