On 12 April I wrote about an initiative in NZ to declare a river a Juridical Person – the idea was to assure management of the river and its valley in the best interest of the River Itself.  Just the other day I saw in Yes! Magazine about an attorney in NY who has for years been filing lawsuits on behalf of four chimpanzees named Tommy, Kiko, Hercules, and Leo.

If you are interested in legal wrangling you can check here how the argumentation has progressed:

The lawsuits are based on habeas corpus, a legal doctrine that prevents an accuser from imprisoning someone without bringing charges against them in a court of law. For legal purposes the chimps are intelligent “persons,” he argues, they should be declared as Juridical Persons, and they should not be kept in cages!

I find his premise – and the inevitable conclusion – entirely reasonable. Especially after a brief encounter some years ago, on the perimeter of Gunung Leuser National Park in North Sumatra, Indonesia, with a quite big male Orangutan. Both of us “froze” instantly on the trail, examining each other from head to toe. We looked into each other’s eyes for a good while, and he did not shun away. I cannot know what moved in his mind, but I could see that he was big and heavy and extraordinarily fit.  Still my most lasting impression of him was a bent back, a notion of something I would best call deep sorrow, or a feeling of powerlessness and incapacity, as if drained of all hope.

For my part, I will never be the same, that’s for sure.

Who speaks for him and for his nation? Well, there are plenty of NGOs and activists, and there are laws and rules. That is welcome, but I believe there is a need for going back for a fresh look at the conceptual and legal framework – and from there to look for a new approach for how to take care of, rather than manage, nature including wildlife. Only governments can do that, but governments need opinions to act on. So there is a job for all of us.

In collaboration with NGOs active in Indonesia we can on request organise field visits, as an extension of your nature travel, for example to North Sumatra or Central Kalimantan, to see Orangutans in the forest and learn about the work being done.

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