Sumatran orangutan Argentina Zoo Freed Habeas Corpus
An Argentine court said orangutans are "non-human persons" and enjoy some rights Reuters

A captive orangutan has won the right to be transferred to a sanctuary in Brazil, in a ruling hailed by activists as a crucial breakthrough for animals caged in parks and circuses.

Sandra, a 28-year-old Sumatran female orangutan held at a Buenos Aires zoo, won the right to be transferred after animal rights campaigners filed a habeas corpus petition of her behalf.

A court in Argentina agreed with the case put forward by the Association of Officials and Lawyers for Animal Rights (Afada), which claimed that Sandra - who was born in captivity in a German zoo - has been held in unjustified confinement since her arrival in Buenos Aires in September 1994.

The judge declared that the ape had basic cognitive functions and thus should be categorised as "non-human person" and enjoy some basic rights - including that of not being illegally detained.

Activists said the verdict could open the gates for more animals locked in parks and circuses.

"This is a blow to the spine of the Argentinian legal system that considers animals as objects," Paul Buompadre, a lawyer for Afada, told La Nacion newspaper.

"It [the ruling] paves the way not only for other Great Apes, but also for other sentient beings that are unfairly and arbitrarily deprived of their freedom in zoos, circuses, water parks and scientific laboratories".

The Buenos Aires zoo has 10 days to appeal the landmark ruling that stemmed from a habeas corpus petition AFADA filed in November.

Habeas corpus, Latin for "you may have the body", is a writ used to contest the legal basis of someone's - usually a person - detention.