Argentine court recognizes captive orangutan as 'non-human person'

The court ruled Sandra, a 29-year-old orangutan, as a "non-human person" who had been illegally detained.
By Fred Lambert Contact the Author   |  Dec. 21, 2014 at 8:15 PM
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BUENOS AIRES, Dec. 21 (UPI) -- An Argentine court ruled an orangutan had some of the same legal rights as humans due to its status as a "non-human person."

Sandra, a 29-year-old Sumatran orangutan, spent the last 20 years in captivity at the Buenos Aires zoo.

Shy and reluctant to show herself from her enclosure, the orangutan gained representation from the Association of Professional Lawyers for Animal Rights (AFADA), whose attorneys filed a habeas corpus petition in November on behalf of the coy ape based on "the unjustified confinement of an animal with probable cognitive capability," the BBC reports.

On Sunday the court agreed with AFADA attorneys' argument that Sandra was denied her freedom as a "non-human person" -- a distinction that places Sandra as a human in a philosophical sense, rather than physical.

If the case is not appealed by the Buenos Aires zoo within 10 days, Sandra will be moved to a primate sanctuary in Brazil with more freedom.

"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 told La Nacion newspaper.

However, Adrian Sestelo, head of biology at the Buenos Aires zoo, warned against applying 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," he told La Nacion.

The ruling follows a habeas corpus writ filed by the Nonhuman Rights Project in a New York State court in December on behalf of a chimpanzee, which the group argued was unlawfully imprisoned. The case was thrown out, and Justice Karen Peters wrote that "chimpanzees cannot bear any legal duties, submit to societal responsibilities or be held legally accountable for their actions."

Last year the Indian government outlawed the captivity of dolphins, noting the species "should be seen as 'non-human persons' and as such should have their own specific rights."

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