The campaign to afford nonhuman animals "personhood" is in the news again, this time on behalf of a suffering orangutan. The Association of Professional Attorneys for the Rights of Animals (Afada) recently filed a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of Sandra, an orangutan living at the Buenos Aires Zoo. This week, the petition was denied in court.
"Sandra is captive and living in absolute solitude at the zoo in the city of Buenos Aires," the group said in its court filing. They argued that the 20-year-old animal should be retired to live in a sanctuary.
A writ of habeas corpus is meant to prevent people from being unlawfully imprisoned. It demands that a prisoner appear in court, and that his guardian present proof of authority to keep him prisoner. In order for habeas corpus to apply to apes like Sandra, groups have defined these animals as "non-human persons," meaning they could have legal protection and the right to freedom from unjust imprisonment.
According to the Spanish language newspaper The Daily Clarin, Buenos Aires judge Mónica Berdión de Crudo ruled this week that in Sandra's case, the writ of habeas corpus does not apply. However, the judge ordered officials to investigate her living conditions and check whether they violated the condition of a federal animal welfare law.
This isn't the first time animal advocates and lawyers have invoked habeas corpus in the name of a great ape. Three high-profile cases are currently under appeal in New York courts. Filed on behalf of four captive chimpanzees by the organization the Nonhuman Rights Project, the cases argue that "personhood" would afford apes the fundamental right to bodily liberty, and the right to be transferred to a sanctuary.
The group also has plans to extend this thinking to other types of animals. In October, the group's executive director, Natalie Prosin, told The Dodo:
"We're looking at species that we can prove in a court of law are determined emotionally and cognitively complex to qualify for personhood. We believe that we have evidence for this level of cognitive complexity for all species of great apes, African and Asian elephants and some cetaceans like orca whales and dolphins."