Last week, Argentina made headlines when they granted an orangutan, named Sandra, the status of “non-human person” and the freedom she needed to be moved out of the Buenos Aires Zoo. Sandra, a reportedly shy orangutan, was obviously unhappy with her living situation at the zoo. This went into the decision of granting her rights and thus, allowing her to be moved to a primate sanctuary in Brazil. At the sanctuary, Sandra will be able to live life as naturally as is possible for a captive-born ape. She will finally be able to escape the crowds of people she regularly shied away from.
Sandra is also paving the way for other apes. Sharing 97 percent of their DNA with humans, it is only a matter of time before more get on board with granting these amazing animals more rights. Unfortunately, Tommy, a chimp in New York, was recently declined writ of habeas corpus in the courts. It was determined that “chimpanzees have no human rights” by the New York courts.
Activists in Ireland, however, are excited for Sandra’s success. The Animal Rights Action Network, Ireland’s largest animal rights group, has already set a plan into motion to pursue a similar success for the apes of the Dublin Zoo in the New Year, taking a similar legal action as Argentina in the courts of Ireland.
When Leo Oosterweghel, director of the Dublin Zoo, was interviewed on the subject, he claimed he was “not negative” about the development. Instead, Oosterwehel understands why the ruling was made.
“The boundary between apes and humans is continuously being blurred and there isn’t a day when I’m not amazed at the parallels between human behavior,” he said. “This whole field of ethics is a rapidly evolving field. It strengthens the position of animals.”
Though not in support of freeing the zoo’s 16 apes, Oosterweghel said he will be watching to see the implications of this movement with great interest.
Ireland is joining several other countries who have already taken steps to grant rights to some “non-human” persons. India, for example, passed a law that recognizes dolphins as non-human persons in 2013. This law effectively banned keeping dolphins in captivity and aided in shutting down several marine parks. Efforts to recognize dolphins as non-human persons are also in place in Romania and have been discussed by several other countries, the U.S. included. In fact, the city of Malibu, California released a proclamation earlier this year that stated dolphins and whales “deserve the right to their own freedom and lives.”
With one success in this front, it will only become easier to grant certain animals writ of habeas corpus or grant them some basic rights. New York state courts claimed that one of the reasons they couldn’t grant Tommy, the chimp, rights was because habeas corpus had never been used in a non-human case before. With that reasoning no longer relevant, success will be that much easier to obtain for these animals.
ARAN president, John Carmody is excited to see changes thanks to the success of Sandra’s case. “It paves the way for all gorillas and apes,” says Carmody. “It could shake up the zoo industry worldwide. I think Dublin Zoo needs to be worried.”
Image source: Suvodeb Banerjee/Flickr