In landmark ruling, orangutan granted legal ‘person’ status in Argentina

A court in Argentina has ruled that an orangutan was entitled to some basic rights as a “non-human individual” and can live in a partially free primate sanctuary, local media reported Sunday.

Animal right lawyers argued that Sandra, held in captivity for 20 years in Argentina, was being illegally detained in the Buenos Aires Zoo and had proven cognitive abilities that didn’t allow her to be classified as a “thing,” Reuters reported.

In November, the Association of Officials and Lawyers for Animal Rights, AFADA as it is known by its Spanish acronym, filed a habeas corpus on behalf of the 29-year-old Sumatran orangutan, which challenged the legality of Sandra’s detention. Sandra was born at Germany’s Rostock Zoo and was then transferred to the Buenos Aires Zoo in 1994.

The court agreed that Sandra was a “person” with certain rights and is allowed to be transferred to a sanctuary in Brazil where she can enjoy greater freedom among other primates. The Argentina zoo has 10 days to appeal, The New Zealand Herald reported.

“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 Buompadres said, as quoted in the daily La Nacion newspaper.

Adrian Sestelo, Buenos Aires Zoo’s head of biology, told La Nacion that orangutans are naturally solitary animals that only come together to mate and tend to their young. He warned against assigning human traits to animals.

“When you don’t know the biology of a species, to unjustifiably claim it suffers abuse, is stressed or depressed, is to make one of man’s most common mistakes, which is to humanize animal behavior,” Sestelo said.

Earlier this month, a New York appeals court ruled that it was “inappropriate” to grant “legal personhood” provided by habeas corpus to a privately owned chimpanzee named “Tommy.”