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The Truth About The Zoo Orangutan Who Was Granted 'Freedom'

<p> Joan Campderrós-i-Canas/Flickr </p>

Last week animal activists around the world celebrated when an Argentine court gave an orangutan named Sandra nonhuman rights, thereby securing her eventual freedom. But one organization now tells The Dodo that it might not be such a major victory after all.

Contrary to many reports, Sandra, who has been living at a Buenos Aires zoo since 1994, does not appear to have received a writ of habeas corpus, says Natalie Prosin, the executive director of the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP). This writ, filed by the Association of Professional Lawyers for Animal Rights (AFADA) on Sandra's behalf, would mean that Sandra's keepers would have to appear in court to explain why they were holding her captive.

The ruling may not have set a legal precedent after all, Prosin says. She also pointed out that the court didn't give any examples of rights to which a nonhuman animal is entitled, nor did it reference previous cases or statutes.

"But we're still trying to get to the bottom of this," Prosin told The Dodo. "So, at this time, we just cannot say what, if anything, the decision means for Sandra, for nonhuman animals in Argentina, or for the appellate cases the NhRP is currently litigating in the state of New York."

While lawyers work to decipher the decision and see whether Sandra will in fact be retired, she waits in her cage in Argentina. The zoo still has the power to appeal the decision, which would create yet another hurdle for her rescuers.

In another part of the world, four chimps are embroiled in similar battles - last month, a New York appellate court denied an appeal put forth on behalf of a chimp named Tommy who lives alone as a pet.

Despite the setbacks with Sandra's case, lawyers are still seeking to use the law to free captive animals. As momentum gathers, it's likely that great apes, elephants and some cetaceans like orca whales and dolphins will see their day in court, too.

The AFADA did not immediately respond to The Dodo's request for comment.