Argentine orangutan granted unprecedented legal rights

Story highlights

  • An animal rights group files a writ asking for freedom for Argentine orangutan Sandra
  • Sandra had been living at the Buenos Aires Zoo for 20 years
  • A court rules that Sandra is a "nonhuman being" with rights to freedom and "no harm"
  • The zoo has up to two weeks to appeal the ruling

(CNN Espanol)In a world first, a court in Argentina issued a historic and unprecedented ruling that favors the rights of an orangutan held in captivity. Sandra the orangutan was granted a legal action so she may be transferred to a habitat in keeping with her development.

Argentina's Association of Professional Lawyers for Animal Rights filed a writ of habeas corpus, a resource to avoid arbitrary arrests, on Sandra's behalf. Once the release and transfer order is issued, the orangutan would be taken to a sanctuary in Brazil, where she would live under partial or controlled freedom.
    Sandra, who has been living in captivity for the past 20 years at the Buenos Aires Zoo, was considered a "nonhuman being" and she was granted basic rights, such as life, freedom and a premise of "no harm" either physically or psychologically.
    Argentina's Federal Chamber of Criminal Cassation ruled the primate is a subject of law, "a nonhuman being that has certain rights, and can enforce them through legal procedure," according to Andrés Gil Domínguez, Sandra's attorney.
    "This is an unprecedented ruling, the first ruling worldwide," said the lawyer.
    Previously, Argentine laws interpreted animals as things.
    Buenos Aires Zoo officials did not issue a statement but will have up to two weeks to appeal the ruling.
    Even though this is a case that sets a global precedent, specialists in this matter confirmed this type of ruling only applies to cases like Sandra's and great apes, who share 96% of their genetic identity with human beings.
    Science considers chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans to have understanding and feelings that can be compared with those of humans.
    "It has been proven that Sandra and primates held in captivity have not only lost their freedom, they have lost the ability to live in a natural habitat, but it has also been proven that they are affected, that they suffer from confinement, and it is damage that is deep and serious," said Gil.
    Some animal rights activists interpret this ruling as opening new perspectives for species in captivity.
    For Pia Pacheco, from the NGO Project Gran Simio Argentina, this case is "a reflection of certain changes that are taking place in our country in matters related to the consideration people have towards animals and the future they may have."