Wild animals have rights too: a historic decision in Ecuador

The Constitutional Court of Ecuador decided to apply the “rights of nature” to wild animals, which protects them from certain practices.

For the first time, a court has applied to wild animals the “rights of nature” enshrined in its constitution. The decision, which takes place in Ecuador, is transcribed in a judgment dated January 2022. The event gained visibility in early April when it was rebroadcast by the specialized website InsideClimateNews.

Ecuador was already the first country to include, in 2008, “rights of nature” in its constitution, which was followed by a few other countries, the last of which is Italy in early 2022. a recent application of these constitutional rights in Ecuador is the banning of a mining project in a protected forest. Extending the rights of nature to wild animals is an important new step, both nationally and internationally.

A monkey plucked from its natural environment

The case involves the adoption of a female Lagotriche (or “woolly monkey”). She was captured from the wild when she was one month old and then kept as a pet by Ana Beatriz Burbano Proaño, a librarian, who named her Estrellita. Except that the possession of a wild animal is illegal in Ecuador: in 2019, the authorities are alerted and seize the animal. They transfer him to a zoo. Less than a month later, Estrellita dies in captivity.

Lagotriches, or woolly monkeys, are a species of monkeys that inhabit South America. // Source: Images from Wikimedia

Shortly before Estrellita’s death, Ana Beatriz Burbano Proaño launched a legal appeal called habeas corpus in Ecuador: this allows assessing the validity of a person’s conditions of detention. The librarian then demands that the animal be returned to her and that the court order a violation of Estrellita’s rights. Going from court to court, the case eventually ended up in the country’s Constitutional Court, the highest court.

The right not to be hunted, fished, captured, collected…

In its judgment, the Constitutional Court considers that the rights of nature apply to wild animals, which it recognizes as subjects of law with innate and individual value – they are not intended to be “useful” for human beings.

The Court recognizes your right to shall not be hunted, fished, captured, collected, extracted, kept, retained, trafficked, traded or bartered.”. This adds the right to free development of their animal behavior, which includes the guarantee not to be domesticated and not to be forced to assimilate human characteristics or appearances.”

Wild animals have the right “not to be hunted, fished, captured, collected, extracted, kept, retained, trafficked (…)”

Ecuador’s Constitutional Court

As a result, according to the judges, Estrellita’s rights were violated both by the government, who locked her up, and by Estrellita, who adopted her by capturing her on sight. The Court also calls for new rules to be adopted to ensure that the constitutional rights of wild animals are respected.

This decision is now a jurisprudence in Ecuador: the rights of wild animals are recognized and protected constitutionally, that is, at the highest legal level in the country. This obliges all other institutions in the country to adopt laws and protocols consistent with this constitutional decision. In Estrellita’s case, this would have avoided detention in a zoo, as authorities would have had to find a way to reintegrate her into her natural environment.

The Court observed that certain human activities, in particular agriculture or fishing within a certain framework, remain constitutional: the Court considers that this type of biological interaction for food purposes is part of the natural balance in the relationship with ecosystems. But the limitation to agriculture and the existence of rights de facto prohibit “recreational” hunting or fishing practices and regulate farming conditions.

Although many countries criminalize the inhumane treatment of animals (domestic animals in particular) and protect ecosystems from certain degradations, the recognition of wild animals as subjects of law is an even more advanced step. This represents an unprecedented approximation between animal law and environmental law. And that demonstrates to other countries that protecting the living through law is entirely possible.

For more

The tentacles of an octopus.  // Source: Pixabay

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.