Orangutan Granted Legal Personhood, Moves to Florida, Becomes Florida Woman

An orangutan who was granted legal personhood in a landmark 2015 ruling has moved into the Center for Great Apes in central Florida.

Judge Elena Liberatori's ruling declared that Sandra was legally not an animal, but a non-human person. That meant the orangutan was entitled to some legal rights enjoyed by humans, plus better living conditions, reports The Miami Herald.

"With that ruling I wanted to tell society something new, that animals are sentient beings and that the first right they have is our obligation to respect them," Liberatori said.

The 2015 ruling came after animal rights campaigners filed a habeas corpus petition—a document more typically used to challenge the legality of a person's detention or imprisonment—on behalf of the orangutan.

Sandra, 33, was born in Germany and spent 25 years at the Buenos Aires Zoo before arriving at her new home on November 5.

Patti Ragan, director of the center in Wauchula, Florida, said Sandra is adjusting to the center, joining 21 orangutans and 31 chimpanzees who have been rescued or retired from circuses, stage shows and the exotic pet trade.

"She was shy when she first arrived, but once she saw the swings, toys, and grassy areas in her new home, she went out to explore," Ragan said.

Ragan also said Sandra met her caregivers and has adjusted well to the new climate, calling her "sweet and inquisitive."

"This is the first time in over a decade that Sandra has had the opportunity to meet other orangutans, and she will meet them when she chooses. It is a new freedom for her, and one we are grateful to provide," she said.

Orangutans share about 97 percent of their DNA with humans. Romeo Gacad/Getty

The Buenos Aires Zoo's head of biology, Adrian Sestelo, said in 2015 that he thought it inappropriate to compare the animal with a human.

"When you don't know the biology of a species, to unjustifiably claim it suffers abuse, is stressed or depressed, is to make one of man's most common mistakes, which is to humanize animal behaviour," Sestelo said.

Experts said the verdict would open the floodgates to thousands of similar cases but that doesn't appear to have happened.

Once the Buenos Aires Zoo closed in 2016, Sandra traveled to the United States, where she was quarantined for a month at the Sedgwick County Zoo in Kansas before moving to Florida.

Orangutans are part of the family Hominidae—or great apes—along with gorillas, chimpanzees and humans. Their name translates from Malay as "man of the forest."