Sentient Sandra and a Landmark Ruling on Animal Rights

This nearly mature male orang utan (Jenggo) was released several years ago from the Frankfurt Zoological Society Reintroduction Centre in Jambi, Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo courtesy of WWF and obtained at © Fletcher & Baylis / WWF-Indonesia

This nearly mature male orangutan (Jenggo) was released several years ago from the Frankfurt Zoological Society Reintroduction Centre in Jambi, Sumatra, Indonesia.
Photo courtesy of WWF and obtained at–3
© Fletcher & Baylis / WWF-Indonesia

Last month, amid the holiday hustle and bustle and with little fanfare, a landmark legal ruling in the world history of animal rights occurred in Argentina. The ruling concerned an orangutan named Sandra, a resident of the Buenos Aires zoo for the last twenty years. The court ruled that Sandra was considered a “nonhuman being” and she was granted basic rights, such as life, freedom and a premise of “no harm” either physically or psychologically. Argentina’s Federal Chamber of Criminal Cassation ruled the primate is a subject of law, “a nonhuman being that has certain rights, and can enforce them through legal procedure,” according to Andrés Gil Domínguez, Sandra’s attorney. Previously in Argentina, as in the rest of the world, the law interpreted animals as things.

Lawyers for Argentina’s Association of Professional Lawyers for Animal Rights (Afada) had argued that Sandra was “a person” in the philosophical, not biological, sense. They argued further that she was in a situation of illegal deprivation of freedom as a “non-human person” and had filed a “habeas corpus” writ in her favor last November over “the unjustified confinement of an animal with probable cognitive capability.” The court judges had rejected the writ several times before deciding finally that Sandra could be considered to have rights to freedom which needed defending.

Sandra was born in 1986 in a German zoo and was transferred to the Buenos Aires zoo in September 1994. She was considered to be shy and regularly tried to avoid the public in her enclosure.

The Buenos Aires zoo has 10 working days to seek an appeal, after which time there are plans to transfer Sandra to a sanctuary to live out the rest of her years. Captive orangutans have been known to live as long as 60 years, while the average lifespan of a wild orangutan is 35-45 years.

Afada lawyer Paul Buompadre was quoted as saying by La Nacion newspaper: “This opens the way not only for other Great Apes, but also for other sentient beings which are unfairly and arbitrarily deprived of their liberty in zoos, circuses, water parks and scientific laboratories.”

Similar cases are occurring more frequently. A U.S. court this month rejected a similar case regarding a privately owned chimpanzee in New York. The court ruled that “Tommy’ was not a “person” entitled to the rights and protections afforded by habeas corpus.

In 2011, the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed a lawsuit against Sea World, alleging five wild-captured orca whales were treated like slaves. A San Diego court dismissed the case.

Orangutans at the Toronto Zoo. Photo from the Creative Commons.

Orangutans at the Toronto Zoo. Photo from the Creative Commons.

As one with experience working in zoos and aquariums, I am heartened by the progression of mankind towards consideration of the sentience of animals, albeit slow progress. There would be no captive animals in a perfect world, but the world is far from perfect. Man kept captive animals as long ago as the Neolithic era, possibly earlier. In the U.S. alone, 175 million people visit AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums annually. Therefore, there is still much to achieve towards establishment of animal rights and a movement away from animals in captivity. A shy, unassuming orangutan named Sandra has quite possibly set us upon a new path. She will be known by name among the masses and for decades to come. Her name will be in all the relevant college texts and legal briefs.

I am already her biggest fan.


Bunny-free Beauty: A Look at Cruelty-Free Cosmetics

By Christine Harris


Photo courtesy of USFWS.

Is our vanity worth the suffering of other living creatures? Though there is no doubt that safety should be ensured before a new product enters the market, modern science has provided effective testing methods that do not require the use of live animals for cosmetics tests. Many of the most widely-used cosmetics in the United States are tested on animals and it can be difficult to find products that are cruelty-free.

Fortunately PETA has amassed a searchable database of over 1300 cruelty-free cosmetics companies. You can also use the database to find companies that do test on animals.  Unfortunately many well-known cosmetics brands test on animals including Maybelline, Revlon, Johnson & Johnson and Proctor and Gamble, owners of Covergirl.  At first glance finding mainstream, drugstore brands that are cruelty-free may seem like a difficult task, but many well-known brands like Aveda, Paul Mitchell, e.l.f., wet n wild, the Body Shop and Physician’s Formula have all jumped on the cruelty-free bandwagon.

When compared to recent progress made by other countries in limiting and banning cosmetic testing on animals, the United States is lagging behind. In 2013 Israel banned the sale of all animal-tested cosmetics. In South Korea the government invested more than $150 million to establish a non-animal testing center for medicated cosmetics such as sunscreens and anti-wrinkle creams.

A new policy to take effect in China in June of 2014 will no longer require that cosmetics and other personal care products be tested on animals before they can be sold to the public.  Now the sale of non-animal-tested “non-specialized cosmetics” produced in China, including soap, shampoo, and some skin-care products, will be permitted as long as the ingredients in those products have already been deemed safe through past testing or are tested using European Union (EU) methods of non-animal testing.  The EU, which currently has 27 member nations, is at the forefront of cruelty-free cosmetics, banning the import and sale of cosmetics that include ingredients tested on animals in 2013. Also in 2013, India became the first Asian country to ban animal testing of cosmetics within its borders.

There is hope that similar strides will soon be made in the United States through the Humane Cosmetics Act. Introduced on March 4, 2014 by Democratic Congressman Jim Moran of Virgina, the Humane Cosmetics Act would make it illegal for anyone to conduct or commission cosmetic animal testing in the US. It would also prohibit the sale or transport of any cosmetics tested on animals or cosmetics containing ingredients tested on animals in interstate commerce.

Modern science has contributed a number of well-developed, non-animal tests for cosmetic products.  With these new methods available the use of animals as test subjects is becoming unnecessary and obsolete.