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Sarah the Orangutan Granted Basic Human 'Legal' Rights by Argentina Court, Can be Freed

( [email protected] ) Dec 22, 2014 12:16 PM EST

Argentina Orangutan
Sandra covers her head with a cloth to protect herself from the public gaze at the Buenos Aires Zoo. Photo: Reuters

A court in Argentina has ruled that an orangutan must be granted certain legal rights and can go free from a zoo to a sanctuary, saying that the creature is a "non-human person" unlawfully deprived of its freedom.

According to Reuters, animal rights campaigners filed a habeas corpus petition on behalf of Sandra, a 29-year-old Sumatran orangutan at the Buenos Aires zoo. Paul Buompadre, a lawyer for Argentina's Association of Professional Lawyers for Animal Rights, or AFADA, argued that the ape had sufficient cognitive functions and thus should not be treated like an object.

"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," Buompadre said to the daily La Nacion newspaper.

The BBC reported that the orangutan would be transferred to a Brazilian sanctuary if there is no appeal. The creature was originally born in a German zoo back in 1986 and went to Buenos Aires in September 1994.

Reuters noted that it was a landmark ruling that could pave the way for more lawsuits. Argentinean court judges have previously rejected the orangutan's habeas corpus writs, which argued that the ape was in "the unjustified confinement of an animal with probable cognitive capability."

However, Sandra's case was not the first one to address animal rights in the court of law. According to Reuters, a court in the United States tossed out a similar bid to free "Tommy" the chimpanzee, ruling that the privately owned chimp, currently living in New York, was not a "person" and therefore ineligible to receive the rights and protections of habeas corpus.

Reuters also cited a 2011 court case brought up by the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) against marine park operator SeaWorld. Although a San Diego court dismissed the case, the lawsuit claimed that five wild-captured orca whales were treated like slaves.

According to Adrian Sestelo, the head of biology at the Buenos Aires zoo where Sandy is being held, orangutans had a calm, solitary nature; the creatures only come together when they mate and care for the young.

"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 to La Nacion.

Reuters reported that the appeal period for the Buenos Aires zoo is 10 working days. Orangutan is a word that means "forest man" in Malay and Indonesian languages.

Tags : legal rights, Human Rights, orangutan, Sandy the orangutan, forest man, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Argentinean court, Buenos Aires zoo, legal precedent, animal rights