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'Captivity is Degrading': Historic and Controversial Buenos Aires Zoo to Close

140-year-old venue will shut down after years of criticism over its treatment of animals

Elephants in their enclosure at the Buenos Aires city zoo. (Photo: jazpdx/flickr/cc)

The historic and scandal-prone Buenos Aires zoo is set to close and all animals transitioned to nature preserves because, as the city's Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta put simply on Friday, "Captivity is degrading."

The 140-year-old zoo in Buenos Aires' Palermo neighborhood will be turned into an "ecopark" when it reopens later this year after its 2,500 animals are removed, although some of the older and infirm animals will remain on site, the Guardian reports. That includes the orangutan Sandra, who made headlines in 2014 when an unsuccessful bid to have her freed from captivity nonetheless resulted in her being termed a "non-human person" deserving of rights by a Buenos Aires court.

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As an ecopark, the site will also provide "refuge and rehabilitation" for animals rescued from trafficking operations.

"This situation of captivity is degrading for the animals, it’s not the way to take care of them," Larreta said Thursday during a press conference.

The ecopark will also serve as a venue "where children can learn how to take care of and relate with the different species," he continued. "What we have to value is the animals. The way they live here is definitely not the way to do that."

In recent years, the zoo has attracted criticism for its inadequate conditions, such as its handling of polar bears during the city's scorching hot summers.

Gerardo Biglia, an animal rights activist who has long pushed for the zoo's closure, said in a press release, "The most important thing is breaking with the model of captivity and exhibition. I think there is a change coming for which we are already prepared because kids nowadays consider it obvious that it's wrong for animals to be caged."

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