Sandra, a 29-year-old female orangutan – born in captivity and a 20-year resident in Buenos Aires Zoo – has been granted the right to life, liberty and freedom from harm within Argentina. She is now expected to be transferred to a sanctuary or another suitable home.
The case started when The Association of Professional Lawyers for Animal Rights in Argentina (Afada) filed a habeas corpus petition in November 2014 on Sandra’s behalf. While initially unsuccessful, the appeals court overturned the original decision. ‘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,’ Paul Buompadre, Afada’s lawyer, was quoted as saying in La Nacion.
Buenos Aires zoo did not take up its right to seek an appeal within ten working days, but its head of biology, Adrian Sestelo, told La Nacion that the judgement was unjust, and a result of mistakenly ‘[humanizing] animal behaviour’.
The level of rights afforded to captive animals has proven a contentious issue in the past few years. In 2014, San Francisco City Council granted cetaceans the ‘right to be free and ‘unrestricted in their natural environment’, but similar cases have proven unsuccessful. A 2011 lawsuit filed by PETA against SeaWorld’s treatment of five of its wild-captured orcas was dismissed by a San Diego court, and a US court rejected a similar habeus corpus bid regarding a New York state-owned chimpanzee, ruling against it being classed as a ‘person’ in January 2015.