Court Declares Orangutan a 'Non-Human Person'
An Argentinian court has just expanded the legal definition of personhood, as they have declared a captive orangutan to be a "non-human person" with comparable civil rights to human beings.
The orangutan, named Sandra, has been held captive in a Buenos Aires zoo for the past twenty years. The Association of Professional Lawyers for Animal Rights (AFADA) argued Sandra's case, claiming that she was intelligent and self-aware, and therefore could be negatively affected by her conditions and understand the passage of time. The judges ruled in Sandra's favor, and proclaimed her captivity to be a "wrongful imprisonment."
Sandra will now be relocated to a wildlife preserve in Brazil that will more accurately mimic the natural habitat of orangutans. Although it may seem ideal to release her into the wild, she would likely not adjust very well to fending for herself completely after a lifetime of captivity.
The zoo has ten days to appeal the decision, and the zoo's director, Adrian Sestelo, has expressed disagreement with the decision. He claims that Sandra's conditions were not tantamount to inhumane solitary confinement because orangutans in the wild live alone for long periods of time. "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," Sestelo said.
As an animal rights supporter, I think Sestelo is correct that people tend to anthropomorphize animals too much, but that doesn't change the fact that sentient, self-aware animals deserve similar rights to humans. Although similar cases in the U.S. have been unsuccessful in affording intelligent primates human rights, hopefully this case signifies a change in overall opinion about animal personhood.