Over the years, several animal rights activists and researchers have tried to show the world that chimpanzees, like many other animals, are incredibly intelligent, cognitive, and emotional beings who deserve so much more than being enclosed in zoos, used for laboratory testing, or treated like entertainment props that you just wind up like a doll and release on a stage to dance around. Animal activists can go a multitude of routes in the name of this cause. Some choose to create powerful films that outline the argument for chimpanzee rights. Others choose to expose the gritty details of zoos and circuses by going undercover and setting up hidden cameras. Many of these efforts are made to put pressure on the people who have a tremendous amount of direct influence when it comes to determining how well animals live. These people are CEOs of marine parks and zoos, people in powerful government positions like mayor or governor, and of course, lawyers and judges. These people all have the power to take action on behalf of animals. Whether they choose to do so or not is a different story.
Well, good news, Green Monsters! This week, a judge in Argentina overseeing the case of Cecilia, a chimpanzee who The Association of Professional Layers for Animals Rights (AFADA) said was unlawfully confined without companionship, ruled that the primate should be released from the Mendoza Zoo! The AFADA brought Cecilia’s case to the Judge stating that she should be transferred to a sanctuary under a writ of habeas corpus, which essentially would argue that the chimp should not be considered as an “object” but a nonhuman person and allow her the same basic rights.
Judge María Alejandra Mauricio shared with the court that there wasn’t any procedural routine to follow for this case, so she has agreed to pass the care of the chimp over to the AFADA and Cecilia will now be moved Great Ape Project’s sanctuary in Brazil.
“We’re not talking about civil rights enshrined in the Civil Code. We’re talking about the species’ own rights: development and life in their natural habitat,” Judge Mauricio told the newspaper Los Andes after the ruling was made.
While it is still unclear whether or not Judge Mauricio granted Cecilia habeas corpus rights specifically, what we do know is that this chimp has gained her freedom. Cecilia will finally get a second chance and hopefully be able to put the boredom, and likely frustration, that came with a life in solitude behind her.
Cecilia’s case is particularly significant considering she was being held in Mendoza Zoo. Earlier this year the zoo was called out for leaving animals languishing in its facilities for far too long, a move that contributed to the death of Arturo, a depressed polar bear that thousands of people around the world wanted free. The fact that this judge acted to ensure that Cecilia does not have the same fate is commendable.
Whether the “rights” the judge refers to will be applicable to other chimpanzees and animals is yet to be seen, but recognizing that species have a right to develop in their natural habitat is a huge positive step. There is still a lot of work to be done if we hope to see a day where zoos no longer exist, but at the end of the day, the freedom of a chimpanzee, whatever the cause, is something worth celebrating. And celebrate, we will. Good luck on your new journey, Cecilia!
Lead image source: Proyecto Gran Simio