Sandra is the orangutan taking ‘I Wanna Be Like You’ to a whole new level

As our understanding of the natural world increases in sophistication, there have been plenty of reevaluations of particular beliefs and countless theories proven and disproven. Now, it seems even the identity of animals and where they stand on the natural hierarchy is facing renovation. The most recent example? The orangutan.

In 2015, a High Court in Argentina ruled that one particular orangutan was not just an animal, but instead was a ‘non-human person’ and deserved the dignity and respect that came with such a title. Judge Elena Liberatori is quoted as having said, “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.”

Animals being sentient beings isn’t exactly new information. We’ve known for quite some time that animals possess consciousness and interact with the world around them in an animated fashion. Mammals at large, and primates in particular, have shown their emotional sensitivity time and time again (even demonstrating complicated emotions such as grief).

Sandra the orangutan deserved better, and better is what she got

The orangutan in question brought about the question of personhood after their own living conditions were considered unsuitable. Sandra the orangutan began her life in a German zoo in 1986. From there, she was moved to the Buenos Aires Zoo in Argentina in 1994.

David Gonzales/Pexels

It is here that she experienced woeful living conditions. Her enclosure was nothing more than a barren pen, and was far too small for a primate of her size. Luckily, following the High Court’s ruling that provided Sandra with her personhood, the zoo agreed to close and sent all of its animals to appropriate sanctuaries. This meant Sandra was on the move once more.

For a while, it was unclear where Sandra should be placed for her greatest good. Eventually, the decision was made to move her to the Center for Great Apes, located in Wauchula Florida. It was thought that the warm climate and the center’s specialization would provide Sandra with a secure home that met her needs.

These processes take a great deal of time, and so just last month Sandra landed safely in the United States ready to start her tenancy in her new home. It has been four years since the initial court ruling, but the procedure of moving these unique animals such long distances requires delicate handling and care.

Even apes need a doctor’s checkup from time to time

Initially, Sandra underwent a quarantine process at Kansas Zoo to ensure she wasn’t going to bring any diseases in with her. Nothing personal, Sandra, it’s standard procedure. Any new additions to a zoo have to be screened to make sure they don’t contaminate the delicate climate within.

‘She has met her caregivers here and is adjusting well to the new climate, environment and the other great apes at the center.’

Once her health was thoroughly checked and she was given the green light, Sandra the orangutan was finally ready to start her new life in an environment befitting a person. To make sure Sandra wasn’t too stressed out throughout the process, her original keepers accompanied her along the entire journey. Adorable.

The Center for Great Apes is a preservation facility committed to providing orangutans and chimpanzees alike a permanent home. They are often apes that have retired from entertainment, research, or the highly problematic exotic pet trade. They experience a far higher quality of life once they’re within the center’s walls.

The director of the center, Patti Ragan, had the following to say of Sandra’s arrival: “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. She has met her caregivers here and is adjusting well to the new climate, environment and the other great apes at the center.” Best of luck, Sandra!

A deeper dive – Related reading from the 101

As adorable as it might sound to have your very own monkey, the reality is a vastly different thing

Animals gaining personhood is a little strange, but some animals are bizarre in their own right

Orangutans don’t make appropriate pets, but there have still been some crazy companions over the years