History was made this past weekend in Buenos Aires when an appeals court ruled that an orangutan held in a zoo is a nonhuman person unlawfully deprived of its right to bodily autonomy.

The legal strategy used in this case is similar to the one recently employed by the Nonhuman Rights Project in the United States. Both are claiming that highly sentient animals like great apes are deserving of bodily autonomy, or habeas corpus. As Richard Lough reports for Reuters:

Animal rights campaigners filed a habeas corpus petition - a document more typically used to challenge the legality of a person's detention or imprisonment - in November on behalf of Sandra, a 29-year-old Sumatran orangutan at the Buenos Aires zoo.

In a landmark ruling that could pave the way for more lawsuits, the Association of Officials and Lawyers for Animal Rights (AFADA) argued the ape had sufficient cognitive functions and should not be treated as an object.

The court agreed Sandra, born into captivity in Germany before being transferred to Argentina two decades ago, deserved the basic rights of a "non-human person."

"This opens the way not only for other Great Apes, but also for other sentient beings which are unfairly and arbitrarily deprived of their liberty in zoos, circuses, water parks and scientific laboratories," the daily La Nacion newspaper quoted AFADA lawyer Paul Buompadre as saying.

Sandra will now be freed from the zoo and transfered to a sanctuary.

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The NRP had less success with this same strategy in seeking legal rights for Tommy, a chimpanzee being kept alone in a warehouse, suffering an Appeals Court defeat. But in a new statement, they write that the Buenos Aires decision may not directly determine how U.S. judges may rule, it does set an important precedent, that they hope to draw on as they further appeal the Tommy ruling.

[ Reuters | NRP ]