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Argentine court recognizes cougar as rightsholder

By Lauren Choplin

We at the NhRP welcome the news that an Argentine court has recognized a cougar named Lola Limon as a subject of rights. 

It’s already illegal to own a cougar in Argentina, which is the grounds on which authorities, in late 2019, removed Lola Limon, then approximately six months old, from a home where she was found tied up outside. She was then taken to a Buenos Aires ecopark (similar to a wildlife reserve) to recuperate. 

Earlier this year, the Public Prosecutor in charge of the Specialized Prosecutor’s Unit in Environmental Affairs of the Office of the Attorney General of Buenos Aires filed a petition asking an Argentine criminal court to declare Lola Limon a subject of legal rights and “grant her complete freedom, free of any measure or legal restriction, with definitive legal custody granted to the Interactive Ecopark of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires.” Potentially, this could mean returning Lola Limon, now close to three years old, to the natural habitat from which she was taken.

Citing to prior Argentine cases that recognized the rights of nonhuman animals, such as the well-known case of Sandra the orangutan, and drawing on the Argentine constitution, the Buenos Aires constitution, animal cruelty statutes, the Universal Declaration of Animal Rights, and more, Judge Carla Cavaliere granted the Public Prosecutor’s requests in a July 6 decision. Macarena Montes Franceschini–a friend of the NhRP and a Rights Research Fellow with The Brooks McCormick Jr. Animal Law & Policy Program at Harvard Law School (ALPP)–sent us an English translation of the decision yesterday (note, as you’ll see in the translation, cougars are called pumas in South America). 

Judge Cavaliere came to the conclusion that Lola Limon is a subject of rights and entitled to her freedom despite the fact that, as she acknowledged, nonhuman animals are still considered “moveable goods” under the Civil and Commercial Code of Argentina (reinforcing the idea that a nonhuman animal can have rights and be released to an environment where she can enjoy greater freedom without necessarily reaching the issue of whether she’s still considered property, which is consistent with what we’ve argued in New York in Happy’s case). 

The NhRP is founded on the idea that recognition of nonhuman animals as subjects of rights is the best and most lasting way to ensure that their interests are protected under the law, just as is the case for humans and human rights.

In the absence of legal rights, nonhuman animals are considered legal “things,” which, generally speaking, means that their needs, interests, or any injuries they suffer (such as imprisonment) don’t matter unless they can be tied to human needs, interests, or injuries. The decision in Lola Limon’s case is another welcome sign of progress in the global fight for nonhuman animal rights, especially regarding judges’ increasing willingness to update nonhuman animals’ legal status based on what we know of their capacities and what they need to survive and thrive.

Argentina in particular is helping to lead an ongoing paradigm shift in how other species are viewed and treated under the law. For example, in 2016, an Argentine court, in a decision in a case modeled on the NhRP’s US litigation, recognized a chimpanzee named Cecilia as a rightsholder and ordered her release to the Great Ape Project Brazil’s Sanctuário de Sorocaba sanctuary, writing, “If we take care of her wellbeing, it is not Cecilia who will owe us; it is us who will have to thank her for giving us the opportunity to grow as a group and to feel a little more human.”

With the New York Court of Appeals having become the first US high state court to consider whether a nonhuman animal (our elephant client Happy) has a legal right, two extraordinarily powerful dissents in Happy’s case that support her right to liberty, and a new NhRP court case underway in California, we hope the US won’t be far behind. 

At the same time as we celebrate this news, we note our concerns about whether and how Lola Limon will be used for breeding, as the decision allows for the possibility of her embryos being part of an experimental conservation program at the eco-park. We look forward to learning more about what her life will now look like and, if necessary, helping ensure her freedom is protected fully.

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