Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
An orangutan held in an Argentine zoo is a “non-human person” who has been unlawfully deprived of her freedom, ruled an appeals court in that country in December.
As a result of the historic ruling, the 29-year-old female became the first animal other than a Homo sapiens to be legally recognized has having the rights to life, liberty and freedom from harm, according to a Scientific American article published on Friday.
The ruling, which was handed down on by a high-level Argentine criminal appeals court on December 18, declared that the ape has been unlawfully deprived of its freedom. The orangutan was ordered freed from the Buenos Aires Zoo.
It could also lead to future legal challenges to free other animals living in captivity, particularly 17 chimpanzees living in zoos throughout Argentina, the website noted. The case dates back to November, when a nongovernmental organization first filed for her habeas corpus.
According to Reuters, the organization representing the orangutan, the Association of Officials and Lawyers for Animal Rights (AFADA), argued that the ape had sufficient cognitive function and should not be treated like an object. The court agreed, and in a decision that could open the door for additional lawsuits, declared that it had the same rights as a “non-human person.”
“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,” AFADA lawyer Paul Buompadre was quoted as saying by the daily La Nacion newspaper, according to Reuters.
“Considering that they are very close to human primates, it is an absurdity that they are still in captivity in prison,” primatologist Aldo Giúdice of the University of Buenos Aires told Scientific American. “Seeing them in zoos today recalls human exhibits from other regions of the world in the World’s Fairs in Paris in the 19th century.”
“Studies such as those by Dian Fossey, Jane Goodall and other scientists helped to position the great apes as people,” Giúdice added. “Scientific research has shown that they are sentient beings with reason, self-consciousness and individuality. We cannot be accomplices and let them suffer in prison.”
Another hearing will be held soon to determine where the orangutan named Sandra should live out the rest of her days, according to UPI reports. Sandra has lived at the Buenos Aires Zoo, and will most likely wind up at an animal sanctuary, as it unlikely that she would be able to live in the wild since she was raised in captivity.
The Argentine court ruling is the first legal victory of its kind for animal rights activists who have pursued human-like rights for the creatures for decades. Activists and lawyers affiliated with the Nonhuman Rights Project have filed several such appeals in New York in recent years, but their attempts to grant a chimp named Kiko habeus corpus have proven unsuccessful.
“Judges in Kiko’s case says the right of habeus corpus does not apply when the distinction is not confinement versus freedom, but one form of confinement versus another,” the UPI said. “Lawyers working on behalf of Kiko say such logic ignores a long legal history of employing habeus corpus to transferring custody of child slaves or indentured servants from abusive owners to lawful guardians.”