Rachel Paige
December 22, 2014 12:04 pm

I love animals. You love animals. We all really love animals. And I really love going to zoos to see animals, because I’m one of those people who could stare at penguins on a makeshift iceberg all day. But, just like many others, sometimes I feel awful for the animals held in captivity stuck there for nothing more than our temporary enjoyment. It can be heartbreaking to visit them at their zoo home, because don’t you kinda wish they could just be free in the wild?

Over the last decade, zoos have steered away from animal habitats involving cages and bars. Now, they lean more towards wide open spaces where animals can actually roam semi free in a mockup of their natural habitats. Well, taking that even one step further, there’s an orangutan named Sandra who has been granted some legal rights — the same legal rights that we as humans have.

Sandra has lived in the Buenos Aires Zoo in Argentina for the last 20 years, and she is a shy orangutan, always trying find some privacy from the public in her enclosure. When I think about how I would react if I were looked at all day by hordes of guests, ranging from children to adults, I would probably try and hide, too. So, in swoop the Argentinian Lawyers for Animal Rights (AFADA) and they cite that due to Sandra’s hesitant nature, she is “‘a person’ in the philosophical, not biological, sense” and henceforth, is being illegally detained. Basically, she shouldn’t have to feel shy and hesitant living in captivity and it’s not fair for her well being.

Back in school, you probably learned all about scientific facts that link monkeys, apes, and orangutans as our direct cousins in the mammal world. According to the BBC, the animal rights lawyers, “filed a ‘habeas corpus’ writ in her favor last November over ‘the unjustified confinement of an animal with probable cognitive capability.'” This is a huge step for all animals. No, this isn’t a situation where suddenly Fido will get voting rights. However, for an animal like Sandra, who clearly displays similar emotions to what we as humans do, she needs people who are working to make her life better. Her feelings about being held captive in a zoo are more similar to what yours would be than we might have previously thought.

If there is no appeal for her case, and so far there hasn’t been, she’ll be transferred to a sanctuary in Brazil where she can live as freely as she wants, away from the eyes of school field trips. While Sandra will certainly be missed, in this case it’s more important to do what’s best for her rather than keeping her contained for our enjoyment. Keep in mind this might not set a precedent for other orangutans out there, but it’s definitely a huge step for our long distant relatives. It basically means we’re turning a corner when it comes treating animals with the respect they deserve, rather than merely seeing them as accessories in our human-centric world.

Image via here.