An Argentinian court has decided that a Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) named Sandra is a non-human person with rights, and will no longer be held captive in the Buenos Aires zoo where she has lived for the last 20 years. Sandra’s case was taken up in November 2013 by the Association of Professional Lawyers for Animal Rights (AFADA). The lawyers argued that Sandra was intelligent and self-aware enough to understand and be negatively affected by her conditions, as well as being aware of the passage of time. The court agreed, and the judges unanimously voted in favor of a writ of habeas corpus for Sandra, deciding that she had been wrongfully imprisoned.
A writ of habeas corpus essentially states that the court must decide if the entity holding the person (in this case, the zookeepers, but more generally applies to prison officials) has adequate authority and grounds for keeping the person confined. While there is no doubt that the zoo has been holding Sandra captive for all of this time, the court had to decide if Sandra qualified as a non-human person, based on her level of intelligence.