Orangutan Declared "Nonhuman Person", Will Be Released From Zoo, Sets Precedent For Animal Abuse Cases

Animal rights campaigners have been fighting for the recognition of the rights of animals with human-like cognitive functioning for years, and a landmark case that was ruled today might just set the precedent they need to make a significant change in their treatment. An orangutan was released from a zoo in Buenos Aires after being classified as a "nonhuman person," marking the first case to officially recognize the remarkable intelligence of these primates and acknowledge their captivity as mistreatment. As a result, 29-year-old Sandra, the orangutan in question, will be transferred from the zoo to an animal sanctuary. It will be the first time since her birth in Germany that she will live her life outside of captivity.

Activists from the Association of Officials and Lawyers for Animal Rights campaigned for Sandra's release in November as a habeas corpus case (typically used to free wrongfully kept prisoners) on the grounds that she "had sufficient cognitive functions and should not be treated as an object." The zoo still has ten days to appeal the ruling, and it looks like they might head in that direction. The zoo's head of biology, Adrian Sestelo, told La Nacion, "When you don't know the biology of a species, to unjustifiably claim it suffers abuse, is stressed or depressed, is to make one of man's most common mistakes, which is to humanize animal behavior."

This ruling comes mere weeks after a similar case in New York, when Tommy the chimpanzee was denied personhood, citing that apes "cannot give back to society in a way that merits human rights." The result of Sandra's case, if the ruling stands, usher in some hope that activists will not only be able to overturn cases like Tommy's, but set a precedent to win other "nonhuman person" cases in the future.

Here's a picture of Sandra, who will hopefully be on her way to an animal sanctuary for Christmas:

Images: Getty Images; Independent/Twitter