In 2014, an Argentinian court ruled that Sandra, then a twenty-something orangutan, was not merely an animal, but a non-human “person” who deserves to enjoy rights similar to those enjoyed by humans.
It meant, among other things, that she could no longer be owned or shown in a zoo because she has rights and interests that deserve to be protected by law.
For most of Sandra’s life, she lived on display at the now-defunct zoo in Buenos Aires, but she has recently arrived at a Florida refuge, where Patti Ragan, the founder and director of the Center for Great Apes, says she’s doing fine.
“Sandra is very sweet and inquisitive. She was shy when she first arrived, but once she saw the swings, toys, and grassy areas in her new home, she went out to explore.”
Sandra did, however, lose her personhood status upon her arrival in the United States, since our legal system currently doesn’t recognize non-human animals as people, though, oddly, it does extend that right to corporations. Animal rights activists advocate not only for the great apes, but also for elephants, dolphins, whales, and a handful of other intelligent animals to be treated more as people than things.
They believe these animals have intellectual capabilities that qualify them as individuals with rights and interests, not merely animals to be owned and profited off. Some of those rights would include the right to not be killed or assaulted, to have access to health care, and to be able to live their lives without providing profit to others.
Advocates at the Whale and Dolphin Conservation hope they can begin the process of getting their charges similarly recognized.
“The first step on the legal journey will be the recognition of dolphins and whales as non-human persons. From there we can begin to look at what this will mean for having specific rights for whales and dolphins recognized in law.”
Similarly, activists are lobbying the Bronx Zoo to release Happy the elephant or to obtain other elephants for their exhibit, since she’s been there alone for some time. Recommendations from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums suggest elephants be kept in groups of three or more.
She’s been dubbed the “loneliest elephant in the world” and is the only elephant being held alone in all of the United States.
For now, I guess we can count Sandra’s happy Florida retirement as a win – but there are many other intelligent animals out there waiting for a similar outcome.
I hope the people fighting for them are able to get the outcomes they deserve.