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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 26, 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 52
Argentine court rules that orangutan can't be held by zoo against her will
Section One
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Argentine court rules that orangutan can't be held by zoo against her will

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A court in Argentina has ruled that an orangutan now in the Buenos Aires zoo must be released to a wildlife sanctuary in Brazil where she will enjoy greater freedom and privacy.

Sandra the orangutan was born in a German zoo in 1986 and arrived in Buenos Aires in 1994. At 28, she is middle-aged for an orangutan.

Unlike chimpanzees and gorillas, orangutans are solitary in the wild, and Sandra is even shyer than most of her orangutan colleagues. She reportedly hates to be stared at by human zoo visitors, sometimes pulling a tablecloth over her head to avoid their gaze.

Lawyers for Argentina's Association of Professional Lawyers for Animal Rights (AFADA) filed a writ of habeas corpus on her behalf in November 2013, charging the zoo with 'the unjustified confinement of an animal with probable cognitive capability.'

Orangutans are among the most intelligent primates. Two orangutans at the Atlanta zoo regularly play computer games, and those at the Leipzig zoo have been observed applying the principle of 'calculated reciprocity,' in other words they weigh the costs and benefits of gift exchanges and keep track of them over time.

While the zoo's attorneys maintained that Sandra was a 'thing' and not a 'person,' AFADA's lawyers said she was a 'non-human person' with rights similar to those of humans. After rejecting their arguments several times, the court finally agreed that Sandra had rights that could be legally defended.

'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.

In a similar case, a U.S. court reached an opposite conclusion, however. On December 4 a New York state appeals court ruled that the owner of a chimpanzee did not have to surrender him to a wildlife refuge.

Tommy the chimpanzee is thought to be about 40 years old, and is retired from the entertainment industry. He was given to Patrick Lavery 10 years ago.

The Nonhuman Rights Project filed suit on Tommy's behalf, arguing that since chimpanzees had very similar characteristics to humans, they should be recognized as 'legal persons' with rights enforceable by U.S. courts.

The appellate court disagreed, ruling that there is no precedent for recognizing the legal rights of chimpanzees.

'So far as legal theory is concerned, a person is any being whom the law regards as capable of rights and duties,' the court wrote in its opinion.

'Needless to say, unlike human beings, chimpanzees cannot bear any legal duties, submit to societal responsibilities or be held legally accountable for their actions.'

Lavery said he was happy that Tommy will remain with him. The Nonhuman Rights Project said it would appeal to the state Supreme Court.

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