Sandra orangutan Florida, setting in to new life at Center

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Sandra orangutan Florida, setting in to new life at Center.

Sandra is finally at home in Florida, in a place where, for the first time in more than a decade, she can spend time with other orangutans. Sandra gained international fame when a judge in Argentina granted her legal personhood, a decision that set off the 33-year-old ape’s move to the Center for Great Apes in Wauchula, the only accredited orangutan sanctuary in North America.

Sandra arrived at the sanctuary Tuesday after a month-long quarantine at the Sedgwick County Zoo in Kansas. The sanctuary provides permanent homes for 21 other orangutans and 31 chimpanzees rescued from circuses, stage shows, roadside attractions, labs and the exotic pet trade.

“Sandra is very sweet and inquisitive,” Patti Ragan, the founder of the sanctuary, said in a statement. “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 Sandra has met her caregivers and is adjusting well to the new climate, environment and other great apes at the sanctuary. She can meet other orangutans “when she chooses,” Ragan said. “It is a new freedom for her, and one we are grateful to provide.”

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Argentine Judge Ellen Liberatori gave Sandra non-human personhood in a 2015 ruling that ordered her release from a zoo in Buenos Aires, writing the orangutan should “spend the rest of her life in a more dignified situation.”

“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 told The Associated Press at the time.

Sandra doesn’t have legal personhood status in the United States, but Ragan said a founding tenet of the Center for Great Apes is that “all great apes have the right to be respected as sentient beings.”

Sandra was born Feb. 14, 1986, at the Rostock Zoologischer Garten in Germany. She and a young male named Max were sent to Buenos Aires in 1994. Sandra lived with other orangutans in the early years there and then spent a short time at the Cordoba Zoo before returning to the Buenos Aires Zoo in 2008. Since 2008, Sandra had lived alone at the Buenos Aires Zoo.

The Center for Great Apes is known for its innovative approach to caring for primates. In addition to providing a life with dignity, the sanctuary is designed to allow the apes options and choices of space and companions.

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“We were honored to be selected by Judge Elena Liberatori as the home for Sandra,” Ragan said in the statement. The sanctuary has a team of trained caregivers, an on-site veterinary clinic, a nutrition program that provides healthy meals and 20 individual outdoor ape habitats surrounded by lush tropical forested land.

One thing that makes the Center for Great Apes distinctive is a vast network of elevated walkways that allow the apes to explore, walk to the health clinic, interact with one another and change habitats at their choosing. The tall habitats are three and four stories, ranging from 32 to 40 feet in height, and the apes can stroll through the woods through the mile-long aerial trailway system towards various habitats and greet others of their species.

The apes at the center also are provided with enrichment activities, which Ragan said is a vital component of their care and appeal to their intelligence and creativity.

Struck by the quiet, gentle nature of orangutans as a Zoo Miami volunteer working in Borneo to rehabilitate orphaned wild orangutans, Ragan established the non-profit sanctuary in the 1990s. She also nursed a 4-week-old infant orangutan held at a tourist attraction in Miami and that the owner planned to sell to a circus. After those experiences, Ragan said she became “completely hooked” on the species.

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Ragan thought the infant would live out its life at an accredited zoo, but learned the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which runs breeding programs for endangered animals through species survival plans, wasn’t interested in Sumatran-Bornean hybrid orangutans, especially one that was hand-raised.

Ragan started looking around for a sanctuary for the infant. Finding none in the United States, she established her nonprofit in 1993, but it took another four years before she found an appropriate site for the Center for Great Apes. The sanctuary doesn’t receive any government funding, and relies on memberships, donations, private grants and fundraising efforts to support its work.

The four-star Charity Navigator-rated Center for Great Apes is fully accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries and is a founding member of the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance.

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