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article imageArgentine court grants captive orangutan human right to freedom

By Megan Hamilton     Dec 22, 2014 in World
Buenos Aires - Sandra, a Sumatran orangutan has spent the last 20 years in a zoo in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Now, an Argentine court has decided that she should be recognized as a non-human person with a right to be free.
The ruling, signed unanimously by all of the judges, will free Sandra from captivity, and she will be sent to a wildlife sanctuary in Brazil now that the court has decided she has some basic human rights. The Zoo in Buenos Aires has 10 working days to issue an appeal, RT.com reports.
The "habeas corpus" ruling in Sandra's favor was requested by the Association of Professional Lawyers for Animal Rights (AFADA) last November. AFADA alleged that the orangutan suffered "unjustified confinement of an animal with proven cognitive ability."
Just like a person, the lawyers argued, Sandra is capable of maintaining emotional ties and is able to reason, meaning that confinement frustrated her. The lawyers also said that the 29-year-old ape is able to make decisions, is self-aware, and is able to perceive time. So this, they argued, meant that captivity at the zoo constituted illegal deprivation of liberty, RT.com reported.
Sandra  a 29-year-old orangutan  gestures at Buenos Aires' zoo  on December 22  2014
Sandra, a 29-year-old orangutan, gestures at Buenos Aires' zoo, on December 22, 2014
Juan Mabromata, AFP
The BBC reports that if the zoo doesn't file an appeal, Sandra will be transferred to a sanctuary in Brazil where she will have greater 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, the BBC reports.
Things didn't always go without a hitch, however.
The judges rejected the writ on numerous occasions before deciding that she may well have rights to freedom that should be defended.
Sandra, born in a German zoo in 1986, arrived in Buenos Aires in September 1994, and the BBC reports that she's spent a great deal of time trying to avoid the public in her enclosure.
This isn't the first time that animal rights activists have fought to use a writ of habeas corpus to secure the freedom of wild creatures, Reuters reports.
Earlier this month, a U.S. court tossed out a bid to free a chimpanzee named Tommy, privately owned in New York state. The court ruled that the chimp wasn't a "person" and therefore wasn't entitled to the protections offered by habeas corpus.
In 2011, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed a lawsuit against SeaWorld. PETA alleged that five wild-caught orcas were being treated like slaves. A San Diego court tossed the case.
Orangutans are our close relatives, sharing 96.4 percent of our DNA, The Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS) reports. Living on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, their numbers, estimated at 315,000 just 100 years ago, have plummeted, with only 6,600 left in Sumatra and less than 54,000 in Borneo.
These magnificent Great Apes are losing their homes as more and more land is cleared for palm oil, and the beautiful rain forest trees cut down to produce furniture and paper, SOS reports. Baby orangutans are also stolen from their mothers in order to be sold as pets.
Borneo orangutan  stranded on the last tree left in his rainforest home.
Borneo orangutan, stranded on the last tree left in his rainforest home.
Vimeo
If Sandra is lucky enough to wind up in a sanctuary, she will still be thousands of miles away from her home, but she will undoubtedly be safer than her relatives in Sumatra and Borneo.
Like Sandra, humans are also Great Apes, as the Smithsonian notes. Perhaps we should learn to treat our relatives a little better.
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