Sandra The Orangutan And Her Human Rights

Buenos Aires Zoo has yet another high-profile resident, in addition to Arturo the depressed polar bear.

The Association of Professional Lawyers for Animal Rights (AFADA) will soon make their case in court on behalf on Sandra the shy Sumatran orangutan, and they will use the habeas corpus law to argue that the great ape has been illegally detained and deprived of her dignity and liberty.

Sandra was born in captivity in Germany and transferred to the zoo in Argentina, where she has been living for the past two decades. Her enclosure is currently being renovated on the advice of vets who recommend more environmental enrichment. Activists argue that her shyness is a sign of depression, this others have argued that shy behaviour is typical of orangutans.

A court ruling in December granted Sandra the possibility of limited human rights as a “non-human person” because she has cognitive abilities. An Argentinian judge is set to rule this week whether or not Sandra’s human rights are infringed by her captivity in the zoo, and the judge will also consider whether her restricted freedom is a form of maltreatment.

If the judge rules in favour of Sandra’s release, she could be transferred to an animal sanctuary, which would offer her more freedom, though it is unlikely she will be released into the wild, having never set foot in the Sumatran jungle before.

Sandra will not be appearing in court, obviously, but I will keep you updated of developments. These are exciting times in the animal rights movement – Sandra’s possible release could pave the way for other primates to be granted legal personhood. I recently blogged about Hercules and Leo, two chimpanzees fighting for their human rights.

You can read more about the Nonhuman Rights Project here.

The Virunga Mountain Gorillas These Days

Dian Fossey carrying out observations with a silverback

I’ve just finished reading Dian Fossey’s Gorillas In The Mist and I’m wondering how Nunkie’s Group are getting on these days.

A lot has changed in the Virunga mountains since Fossey’s horrific murder in 1985, and humans have encroached on the gorillas‘ diminishing territory even more. The 1994 Rwandan genocide interrupted the research at the Karisoke Study Centre, and, since then, this recent documentary has demonstrated that the remote gorilla territory is threatened by oil exploration, as well as poachers and farmers

When Fossey’s book was published in 1983, there were 282 known gorillas in the Virgunas, so one could be forgiven for feeling encouraged to read on Wikipedia that there are now 880. The species are still critically endangered. They have at least managed to avoid becoming one of the species discovered and annihilated in the same century, as Fossey feared.

The fight against SOCO is far from over, as the BBC has recently reported that the Democratic Republic of Congo wishes to redraw the boundaries of the park, which would presumably enable SOCO to drill for oil in certain areas. The prime minister of the DRC hopes to persuade the UN that drilling for oil in one of the most bio diverse habitats on the planet is not incompatible with its world heritage status. The Virunga park certainly meets the selection criteria because it

‘contains the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.’

Even SOCO admit that the ensuing pollution of oil exploration operations could destroy the vulnerable ecosystem and threaten the survival of already endangered species. Why risk that?

Chimps (Nearly) Awarded Human Rights

In a landmark ruling, two chimpanzees, imprisoned and abused for research, were temporarily granted legal ‘personhood’ status for the first time. The Nonhuman Rights Project launched a lawsuit against Stony Brook University in New York requesting the transfer of two research chimps, Hercules and Leo, to the Save the Chimps Florida animal sanctuary in Florida.

The activists are focused on securing the freedom of the two chimps, but their case has massive implications for exploited animals everywhere – it could potentially pave the way for other animals to gain legal status.

The Nonhuman Rights Project campaigns for primates to be granted human rights because of their intelligence and complex emotional and social lives. The activists’ mission statement demonstrates a commitment to the attainment of legal rights for some nonhuman species, which would liberate them from cruel, human exploitation, such as animal testing and circus performances.

Our mission is to change the common law status of at least some nonhuman animals from mere “things,” which lack the capacity to possess any legal right, to “persons,” who possess such fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty, and those other legal rights to which evolving standards of morality, scientific discovery, and human experience entitle them.

To be clear, the judge has not yet definitively declared the chimpanzees to have legal rights, as she later amended the order to strike the words ‘writ of habeas corpus,‘ as this would imply they are legal persons. The Nonhuman Rights Project do, however, remain positive, as this is a good opportunity to argue their case for basic human rights to be conferred on apes.

These are not the first primates to come close to gaining enough legal rights to free them from exploitation. The Great Ape Project sought to order the release of Jimmy from a zoo near Rio de Janeiro, but was unsuccessful.

The Great Ape Project was founded in 1993 and includes amongst its ranks Jane Goodall, Peter Singer and Richard Dawkins. It advocates that the great apes (chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos and orangutans) should be granted a UN declaration protecting their right to life, their individual liberty, and prohibiting torture.

You can support the great apes’ right to liberty, life and the freedom from torture, by signing the petition for a world declaration on great apes rights here.