After summarizing the story of Sandra, I will continue my previous article more subjectively. We can experience a strong anti-zoo attitude when we look at the story from the zoos’ point of view. According to AFADA (Association of Officials and Lawyers for Animal Rights), there are no good or bad zoos, as leading zoos communicate, for living in a zoo means imprisonment for every animal and the future should be a world free of zoos. For me, the most shocking opinion on the case was that the trial should have been continued with convicting the workers of the zoo for imprisoning Sandra. I still do not see a great difference between the Great Ape Project sanctuaries and zoos, with regard to the freedom of the apes, though this is merely a cynical comment, as there is a more essential question behind the story. I am afraid that the positive efforts of AFADA could result in being harmful like they have previously been in many cases in the history of conservation and animal welfare.
Are you an animal enthusiast who respects highly intelligent species such as apes, dolphins and elephants? What would the problem be with giving them the same legal status as humans have? If you say there would be no problem with that, you should also agree with the court decision in Sandra’s case. Or shouldn't you?
I am not afraid that, as many religious interpretations suggested, eliminating the legal barrier between animals and humans would lead to dehumanization, I do not think this fear is realistic. As other species and as all living creatures, we are also part of the ecological system. I think the legal system is an important component of maintaining human societies, but it doesn’t work in relation to the ecosystem and evolution. You will not find justice in nature where animals eat one another. We can speak about freedom, though even humans experience it only ideologically, as do wild animals: conspecific competitors, predators and preys, environmental factors obstruct individual freedom.
If we start granting the legal status of a non-human person to some animals, we should set a new dividing line between the species. But where would this barrier be? Whichever feature is tested, there is continuity, so choosing a border will be discretionary. In addition, could an animal, as a person, be punished for hurting or killing, as it is natural in its social environment?
We can save an individual, but we may lose a species. The subject of conservational protection is not the individual but the population. Conservation programs often need to violate personal rights in order to save populations. Field practices (radio telemetry, immobilization for medical tests, moving the animals), ex situ breeding programs could become questionable after changing the present scientific approach.
This does not mean that the actual welfare situation is perfect, but I think we should provide more protection instead of giving personal rights to these animals. Every endangered species deserves protection, regardless of their intelligence and genetic distance from us. The main advantage of this approach is that there is no acceptable reason to distinguish between the animals.
But what about those species of which we know are intelligent? An orangutan should not be considered equal to a coral, however, there is no contradiction if we state that all species have an equal right to specific requirements for their healthy life. Naturally, a coral’s and an orangutan’s needs are quite different because they are sensitive to distinct environmental factors. Whenever we take responsibility for any animal and form its environment, as do natural reserves, sanctuaries or zoos, we should provide these requirements. We also have to keep in mind that this does not necessarily mean that these conditions absolutely exist in the natural environment of the individuals. What are the needs of a species? I am certain that this is not the task of lawyers, but of scientists to determine.
The following question has not only been a subject of a long debate of animal welfare groups, but also of the zoo community. Are there species that are not suitable for living in zoos, as it is impossible to provide the necessary requirements in such an artificial and limited habitat? I do not think the answer is ‘yes, there are’, even if the present situation is not encouraging enough in the case of certain animals. There were several problematic species in the past, but their number has reduced thanks to the development of science and technology. This shows us the way to go, we should research and improve the conditions continuously. Nevertheless, apes are not among those problematic species that couldn’t be kept well in suitable zoos these days.
What will the outcome of Sandra’s case be? I hope it will lead to the improvement of the life of captive apes and that they will no longer be kept in insufficient habitats. Many zoos should reconsider whether or not they are capable of keeping them properly. However, I hope that the rational approach wins.
I encourage you to write your opinion as a comment or as an article to firstname.lastname@example.org, which we would publish on ZOOmoments, if appropriate for publication. First, I cite carlos55's opinion from ZooChat, which provides some relevant information too:
"I have been to the Buenos Aires zoo various times and have posted pictures on the ZooChat gallery. Buenos Aires Zoo is the oldest zoo in Latin America. Many enclosures are very outdated, yet the staff is very dedicated and the zoo has had important breeding with regional species. The zoo is very underfunded and has many economic difficulties. Zoos in Argentina have many problems, remember Arturo the polar bear at another Argentine zoo.
The great ape enclosures are not shown on any of the videos. Buenos Aires Zoo has held both chimps and orangs and both have actually bred at the zoo. One male chimp, Pancho lived over 50 years. The great ape exhibits have an indoor area which is rather dark and small. The outdoor area is more acceptable with some climbing structures. These are not the worst exhibits at Buenos Aires Zoo, the elephant yard is terrible. By U.S. and western European standards the great ape enclosures are small, but they are acceptable when compared to Asian and Russian zoos.
Sandra will miss her dedicated keepers. It would have been better to send her to a U.S. zoo with other orangs. There is no guarantee that the Brazilian sanctuary will be better, other than the fact that the climate is more tropical in most of Brazil. As other zoochaters have mentioned here in a first rate zoo this case would not have prospered."