Ecuador Gives Legal Rights to Wild Animals

A South American woolly monkey
A South American woolly monkey. Ger Bosma / Moment / Getty Images

The highest court in Ecuador has ruled in favor of wild animals. A case for Estrellita, a woolly monkey taken from the wild and kept as a pet, is the first case to apply the country’s “rights of nature” law to animals.

Ana Beatriz Burbano Proaño, a librarian, kept Estrellita as a pet for 18 years, and the monkey was first removed from the wild at only 1 month old. Owning wild animals as pets in Ecuador is illegal. As reported by Inside Climate News, the monkey was seized by authorities in 2019 and placed in a zoo, where she died one month later. 

Burbano Proaño filed a habeas corpus petition on behalf of Estrellita, requesting that the monkey be returned to her possession and asking the court to rule that the monkey’s rights were violated when she was relocated. The court ruled that Estrellita and other wild animals do have rights, and that those rights were violated by both Burbano Proaño and the government.

“What makes this decision so important is that now the rights of nature can be used to benefit small groups or individual animals,” Kristen Stilt, a Harvard law professor, said, as reported by Inside Climate News. “That makes rights of nature a far more powerful tool than perhaps we have seen before.” 

Ecuador was the first country to incorporate rights of nature in its constitution, and this case was the first to apply the law to wild animals. The 7-2 verdict helped further define the scope of the country’s rights of nature law and ensures animals are included.

“This verdict raises animal rights to the level of the constitution, the highest law of Ecuador,” environmental lawyer Hugo Echeverría said in a press release. “While rights of nature were enshrined in the constitution, it was not clear prior to this decision whether individual animals could benefit from the rights of nature and be considered rights holders as a part of nature. The Court has stated that animals are subject of rights protected by rights of nature.”

The court noted that “wild species and their individuals have the right not to be hunted, fished, captured, collected, extracted, kept, retained, trafficked, traded or exchanged,” and that these creatures have individual value not related to their usefulness to humans. 

The ruling also issued for the Ministry of Environment to create more protections for wild animals, particularly those subject to seizure or restraint, within 60 days of the decision.

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