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Argentine Court: Captive Orangutan Sandra has ‘Human Right’ to Freedom

An orangutan held captive in an Argentine zoo for more than 20 years is a “non-human person” unlawfully deprived of her freedom, a Buenos Aires court recently ruled.

Reuters reports Sandra, a 29-year-old orangutan born into captivity in Germany before being transferred to the Buenos Aires Zoo in 1994, won a habeas corpus petition filed on her behalf by animal rights activists. Such petitions are typically used to challenge the legality of a person’s detention.

In the historic case, the Association of Officials and Lawyers for Animal Rights (AFADA) argued Sandra should not be treated as an object, but rather as a person, because of her highly evolved cognitive function.

“This opens the way not only for other great apes, but also for other sentient beings which are unfairly and arbitrarily deprived of their liberty in zoos, circuses, water parks and scientific laboratories,” the leading Argentine daily La Nacion quoted AFADA lawyer Paul Buompadre as saying.

Sandra, a shy creature, regularly tried to avoid the public in her zoo enclosure, BBC reports. If the Buenos Aires Zoo declines to appeal the court’s decision, she will be transferred to a primate sanctuary in neighboring Brazil, where she will live out the rest of her days in relative freedom.

In the United States, activists with the Nonhuman Rights Project unsuccessfully attempted to have a chimpanzee named Tommy removed from his human owners, arguing that intelligent animals deserve basic human rights despite their non-human status.

“If we rule in your favor, does that mean we have to let all chimps out of zoos?” one of the judges who rejected Tommy’s appeal asked.

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