Orangutan in Argentina zoo granted right to live in more desirable conditions

A female orangutan named Sandra, covered with a blanket, gestures inside its cage at Buenos Aires' Zoo, in this Dec 8, 2010 file photo. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A female orangutan named Sandra, covered with a blanket, gestures inside its cage at Buenos Aires' Zoo, in this Dec 8, 2010 file photo. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

BUENOS AIRES (AFP) - A female orangutan got cleared to leave a Buenos Aires zoo she has called home for 20 years, after a court ruled that she was entitled to more desirable living conditions, lawyers said.

The 29-year-old orangutan, named Sandra, has been living in a zoo enclosure for two decades, which animal rights lawyers said was against her comfort.

Argentina's Association of Professional Lawyers for Animal Rights (AFADA) filed a "habeas corpus" writ - a form of legal redress against unlawful imprisonment - arguing she was "suffering an unwarranted confinement."

The lawyers said that while Sandra was not identical to humans biologically, she is in fact like humans emotionally, and would be happier living in a semi-wild habitat.

"She has lived in captivity for 20 years and the point of today's measure is for her to overcome having been held in captivity and depression, for her to be in semi-free conditions in a sanctuary," AFADA lawyer Andres Gil Dominguez told TN television on Sunday.

If the ruling is not appealed, she could be moved to a semi-wild sanctuary in Brazil.

Lawyers had argued that under Argentine law, Sandra should be considered closer to a "person" than a "thing."

"If humanity's development centers on on our broadening reasoning, than Sandra is subject to law," Dominguez said. "It's a very basic recognition."

Sandra was born in a German zoo in 1986 and moved to Argentina in 1994.

Her species is native to Indonesia and Sumatra.

The court has previously rejected requests from NGOs to consider chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas to have some degree of rationality and emotional characteristics similar to humans.

The AFADA is in the process of securing Sandra's release to transfer her to a sanctuary where she is expected to live a more comfortable and happy life, lawyers said.