The 140-year-old Buenos Aires Zoo announced that it will be releasing almost all 2,500 of its animals, transforming the 44-acre urban space into an eco-park focused on sustainability and environmental education, and also as a refuge for trafficked animals.
Despite being one of the city’s main tourist attractions, the zoo was running at a loss, and had come under fire numerous times for the animal’s living conditions. One particular cause for concern was the polar bear exhibit and the extreme heat of the Argentinian summers.
Due to oppressively hot temperatures and poor living conditions, the zoo’s last polar bear, Winner, died three years ago. In 2015 two sea lions died within three days of one another after being forced to perform 15 shows in a row.
“This situation of captivity is degrading for the animals, it’s not the way to take care of them,” Buenos Aires mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta said at a conference. He added, “What we have to value is the animals. The way they live here is definitely not the way to do that.”
Certain older animals or ones deemed not ready for release will be kept on site in more sanctuary-like living situations. One of the 50 animals to stay behind is a 29-year-old orangutan named Sandra. Sandra made international headlines two years ago when the state declared her non-human person deserving of human rights; because she was a hybrid of Borneo and Sumatra orangutan she would not socialize.
“We want a focus on promoting environmental education park, but do not want the animals to pay the cost of that education with their sustained presence in an area in the middle of the city,” wrote the city’s Modernization Minister, Andy Freire. “In embarking on this path, we also wish to serve as an example for other zoos to follow in making a similar change.”