After nearly a century and a half of keeping animals caged, this zoo has decided to set them free instead.

Flickr/HernΓ‘n PiΓ±era

In a stunning announcement on Thursday, officials in Argentina's capital city revealed plans to release nearly all 2,500 animals held at the Buenos Aires Zoo β€” transforming the 140-year-old facility into an ecopark that focuses on environmental education and sustainability, not keeping wild creatures locked up.

"This situation of captivity is degrading for the animals, it's not the way to take care of them," Buenos Aires mayor Horacio RodrΓ­guez Larreta said at a press conference, adding: "What we have to value is the animals. The way they live here is definitely not the way to do that."

Flickr/Roger Schultz

Starting next month, animals long held captive at the 45-acre urban zoo will begin to be relocated to wildlife reserves to live out their lives closer to how nature intended. A handful of animals deemed unfit for release will remain on the site, but kept under more sanctuary-like conditions.

These unprecedented reforms, officials say, signal a shift in the way we regard nonhuman life.

"We want a focus on promoting environmental education, but do not want the animals to pay the cost of that education with their sustained presence in an area in the middle of the city," wrote the city's Modernization Minister, Andy Freire. "In embarking on this path, we also wish to serve as an example for other zoos to follow in making a similar change."

Flickr/PRORodrigo Soldon 2

Argentine animal rights lawyer, Gerardo Biglia, says the Buenos Aires Zoo's change of heart about captivity could indeed hint at a more compassionate future for animals in zoos around the world, telling the Guardian:

"I think there is a change coming for which we are already prepared because kids nowadays consider it obvious that it's wrong for animals to be caged."