BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Attorney Andres Gil Dominguez may have had bigger cases, but he's never had bigger clients.
A city prosecutor's office has authorized Gil Dominguez to represent three elephants in captivity at a former zoo in Argentina's capital. He's demanding that Mara, Kuki and Pupi be transferred to a reserve abroad where they can have a better quality of life.
"The lockup of the elephants violates their rights and constitutes abuse punishable by law," Gil Dominguez said Thursday.
The case follows a notable 2014 ruling in Argentina that determined an orangutan named Sandra was entitled to some of the same rights as humans.
The 140-year-old zoo where Sandra and the elephants have lived for most of their lives closed its doors this year and authorities announced that hundreds of its animals would be set free as it transformed into a park. But officials there argue the three elephants would not survive if set free into the wild.
"These are animals that were born or have lived most of their life in captivity," said Rosario Espina, director of biodiversity at the Buenos Aires eco-park.
"What we can do is improve their well-being in their infrastructure and handling. But they can't be set free, because they'd die."
Many of the former zoo's enclosures are considered inhumane by modern-day standards. All three elephants live in a small treeless site in the Palermo neighborhood of Buenos Aires near busy avenues and buildings.
Mara hails from Asia and was rescued from a local circus. Espina said experts have recommended against the transfer of the 52-year-old elephant because its advanced age could pose a health risk. Kuki and Pupi come from Africa and now are in their 30's and have more possibilities of being transferred to a sanctuary abroad.
But their transfer will depend on finding the right conditions, carrying out health exams and obtaining sanitary permits in a process that could take up to two years, Espina said.
The eco-park managed by the city of Buenos Aires plans to improve the enclosure where the elephants live.
Associated Press writer Luis Andres Henao contributed to this report.