Can you hear the animal activists of the world rejoicing? This Sunday advocates achieved a monumental case that could jumpstart some future wins for the animal rights movement. Get your biodegradable party hats on and pop your vegan snacks in the oven because this is a big one.
A reportedly shy orangutan named Sandra, who was born in the Rostock Zoo in Germany and later moved to the Buenos Aires Zoo where she has resided for the past 20 years, has been granted basic rights as a “non-human person”. Argentina’s Association of Professional Lawyers for Animal Rights (Afada) led the case, arguing that she has been “illegally detained” and deprived of her basic rights as “a person” in the psychological sense of the word.
Last month, animal rights activists presented a habeas corpus petition (for the legally challenged, that’s a document that objects illegal imprisonment) confronting “the unjustified confinement of an animal with probably cognitive capability”. And if that doesn’t get you, the word orangutan comes from the Malay and Indonesian languages and means “forest man”. That’s argument enough for me.
Adrian Sestelo, the Head of Biology at the Buenos Aires Zoo, rebutted the notion that an orangutan, or any other species, has the emotional capacity of a human being. He argued that to insist that an animal “suffers abuse, is stressed or depressed” is “one of man’s most common mistakes, which is to humanize animal behavior.” He clearly hasn’t spent enough time on YouTube watching videos of sad animals.
Regardless, the case was passed, and Sandra will be relocated to a sanctuary in Brazil unless the Buenos Aires Zoo releases an appeal within the next 10 days.
This is a big gain as recent cases have not gone quite as well.
A US Court scraped a similar case this past month arguing that Tommy the chimpanzee, a privately owned chimp in New York, deserved his freedom. And let’s not forget Arturo the polar bear who received public support for his relocation from Mendoza to Canada but not the funding. Despite the announcement that the only polar bear in Argentina is too old to be moved, the hashtag #FreeArturo lives on.
The success of Sandra’s case will redefine our interpretation of animal rights and could mean more wins in the future. If activists get their way, she’ll be celebrating her 29th birthday this February in her new home. If not, keep your eyes open for #SaveSandra that will be trending on a Twitter near you. If this is anything like Arturo, animal rights advocates (or Cher) will not be letting this one go without a fight.