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Argentinian Orangutan Is “Non-Human Person,” Says Court

Being in the zoo impinges on her freedom

Sandra, covered with a blanket, gestures inside its cage at Buenos Aires' Zoo, December 8, 2010. (MARCOS BRINDICCI/Reuters/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Sandra was born 28 years ago in Germany, and for the past two decades she's been living as a prisoner in Buenos Aires. Trapped by an unjust system, her freedom systematically restrained, Sandra had spent her life living like a caged animal.

Mostly because Sandra is an orangutan, and she was living in the Buenos Aires zoo.

But a new court ruling has deemed Sandra a “non-human person,” deserving of basic rights. And that decision changes how the justice system in Argentina will consider Sandra's pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.

According to Reuters, lawyers from the Association of Officials and Lawyers for Animal Rights filed a claim with the Argentinian legal system arguing that, because orangutans are pretty smart, it's inappropriate for them to be treated as objects. The court agreed that Sandra had been “unlawfully deprived of its freedom,” says Reuters, and that she “deserved the basic rights of a 'non-human person.'”

With this judgment, Sandra is set to be released from the zoo. “If there is no appeal against the court's decision from the Buenos Aires zoo,” says the BBC, “she will be transferred to a primate sanctuary in Brazil where she can live in partial liberty.”

The decision comes in direct contrast to a recent verdict in New York state's courts that found that Tommy, a chimpanzee, is not a person deserving of basic rights—not even in the “non-human person” way. Corporations, however, are considered "people" under American law, according to the 2012 Supreme Court decision. ("[A]t least as far as the First Amendment is concerned,” says the Atlantic.)

About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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