In November 2016, Argentine judge María Alejandra Mauricio passed down a ruling. She decreed that Cecilia was a “nonhuman legal person” with “inherent rights”—the first legal decision of its kind in history. “This is not about granting them the same rights humans have,” she wrote,
it is about accepting and understanding once and for all that they are living, sentient beings with legal personhood and…the fundamental right to be born, to live, grow, and die in the proper environment for their species…I consider that the habeas corpus action is the applicable procedure, adjusting the interpretation and decision to the specific situation of an animal deprived of her essential rights.
On April 5, 2017, Cecilia arrived at her new home, a large sanctuary in Sorocaba, Brazil, which houses about fifty other apes. It was the first time she had ever set foot on grass. Initially, she was fearful. “She’s still very distrustful,” the sanctuary’s owner told local media that month. “She’s still really afraid of returning to the hell where she was living. When she hears an engine or some truck, she hides because she thinks they’re going to take her back.”
Gradually, she became more confident. In late August the sanctuary introduced Cecilia to a young male chimpanzee, Marcelino, whom she had been eyeing through a window in her enclosure. At their first meeting, he rampaged through Cecilia’s home. She fled, shrieking. After an hour’s separation, the two reconciled. Cecilia groomed Marcelino intensely. They embraced and kissed. They have rarely been apart since. Though they have plenty of open space to roam, they often choose to stay in catwalks and tunnels, away from the eyes of humans who have so thoroughly misunderstood them, ignored or diminished the evidence of their sentience, and denied their personhood—whose best attempt at emancipation has been to provide a larger prison.
Photo credit: Rob Schreckhise at Unsplash