Sandra, an orangutan currently living in a zoo in Argentina, has basic legal rights, at least according to a recent decision by a court judge in Buenos Aires.
This is the first time that a court has granted these sort of rights to a non-human, which will allow the 28-year-old orangutan freedom from zoo imprisonment.
This decision comes just a month after an animal rights organization, The Association of Officials and Lawyers for Animal Rights, filed a habeas corpus writ on behalf of Sandra.
Although Sandra was born in a zoo in Germany, she came to the zoo in Argentina 20 years ago. According to the animal rights group, the zoo forced her into a life of imprisonment there. The intent behind the writ was to eventually get her transferred to a sanctuary.
Because Sandra has lived her entire life in captivity, she cannot be released into the wild, where she would likely not survive. Instead, if the zoo does not challenge the court's decision, she will live the rest of her days in a sanctuary in Brazil.
The Association of Officials and Lawyers for Animal Rights are currently challenging the zoo system of Argentina, believing that it subjects animals not just to imprisonment, but also cruelty. This new court judgment, however, sets a new precedent for animals with higher intelligence, such as orangutans.
"It sets a precedent that changes the paradigm of animal guardianship and will impact their rights... It will lead to a lot of discussions," says Andrés Gil Dominguez, the lawyer who represented Sandra. "From this ruling forward ... the discussion will be whether captivity in itself damages their rights."
This, however, does not yet apply to other parts of the world. Earlier this month, a New York appeals court denied these rights to a chimpanzee that lives alone in a cage in that state. Although the chimpanzee's lawyers argued that its living conditions were the same as that of a person forced to live in solitary confinement, the appeals court denied "legal personhood" to the chimpanzee. That case is now going to a higher court for appeal by the Nonhuman Rights Project.
Earlier this year, photographer David Slater and Wikimedia argued about the rights of a photograph Slater's camera took of a black macaque. The macaque actually took the photo itself, so Wikimedia argued that because a human did not take the photograph, copyright laws did not apply, so the photograph became public domain.