After years of debate, the 140-year-old Buenos Aires Zoo just announced plans to shut down, free all of its animals, and work toward becoming an ecological reserve. Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta said that 2,500 animals will be relocated to nature reserves elsewhere in the country, while the zoo grounds are set to become an eco-park.

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In his announcement about the zoo’s closing, the mayor admitted that the animals were living in inhumane conditions. “This situation of captivity is degrading for the animals,” he said at a ceremony last Thursday. “It’s not the way to take care of them.” Some 2,500 animals will be moved from the zoo to various nature reserves throughout Argentina, where they will live the rest of their natural lives without being caged.

Related: A baby dolphin died in Argentina after being manhandled by tourists

The exact closure date for the zoo hasn’t been announced, but the zoo’s website has already been taken offline. For years, the zoo had been operating at a loss, and the aging facilities were not being maintained well. The 44-acre property will be reopened later this year as an ecopark, according to city officials, where around 50 animals will remain. Older animals and those with health conditions that require additional care will continue to live on the site, but they will not be on display. In the future, the park will also run a rehabilitation program for animals rescued from illegal trafficking.

The new park, according to Rodriquez, will be “a place where children can learn how to take care of and relate with the different species. What we have to value is the animals. The way they live here is definitely not the way to do that.”

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Perhaps the most famous resident of the Buenos Aires Zoo is Sandra, the orangutan who won rights in a local court as a “non-human person” in late 2015. The ruling set a major precedent for legal rights of animals, although the court has yet to determine what specific actions the city of Buenos Aires must take in order to fulfill its legal responsibilities. Sandra, a hybrid of Borneo and Sumatra orangutans, doesn’t socialize with other orangutans, so she needs extra attention. She will be one of the 50 animals who continues to live and receive care at the zoo site once it becomes a park. She will not, however, be put on display for public entertainment anymore.

Via Treehugger

Images via Wikipedia