Ecuador became the first country in the world to give legal rights to wild animals in January 2022 when its Constitutional Court, the nation’s court deciding issues of constitutional rights, ruled that wild animals have a set of rights protected by nature.
The court was responding to a case brought by the owner of Estrellita, a wooly monkey kidnapped by poachers and raised as a pet. She was taught to wear clothes and diapers, drink from cups, and was nurtured by human parents for 18 years. In 2019, authorities confiscated Estrellita, as the Ecuadorian Environmental Code does not allow the ownership of wild animals without a license. These officials gave her to the San Martín de Baños Zoo, where she died less than a month later from cardiorespiratory arrest.
Estrellita’s owner filed a claim of habeas corpus, which protects against unlawful imprisonment. Although the lower courts in Ecuador denied the owner’s claim of habeas corpus, the Constitutional Court selected the case to determine whether or not animals can have similar rights as humans.
The Constitutional Court functions similarly to the Supreme Court of the United States. The case was centered around the cognitive and social development of wooly monkeys and determined that both the authorities and the owner violated Estrellita’s rights. The court stated that the owner should not have taken the animal out of its natural habitat but the authorities disregarded her needs and previous lifestyle when they confiscated her.
This ruling by the Constitutional Court created the precedent that wild animals have rights. The court advised that animals should be recognized as individuals and as entities separate from their ecosystems. Animals in Ecuador are now considered “sentient beings,” meaning that decisions surrounding them must take into consideration the animal’s consciousness and feelings.
While there were no specific actions taken on Estrellita’s behalf, the court fundamentally recognized that animals have rights that are protected by nature. However, the court did not prohibit the practices of hunting and fishing and noted that animal’s rights are still inferior to the rights of humans.
Although other countries have treaties and local laws providing wild animals protection, only Ecuador and Bolivia have given animals legal rights. Additionally, while most of the world’s industrialized countries have animal cruelty laws, China is the outlier as they have no nationwide laws prohibiting the mistreatment of animals.
Ecuador’s decision to grant animals legal rights is fundamental in establishing a broader consensus within the international community on the treatment of animals. Climate change directly affects animals’ livelihoods, with scientists estimating that 1 million species will become extinct by 2050. Overhunting, overfishing, deforestation, and more have pushed animals to the brink of extinction. Now more than ever, we need stronger laws protecting and conserving animals to prevent them from going extinct.
How can you help?
You can help by signing petitions, staying knowledgeable about the subject through reading current and daily news surrounding animal rights laws, and telling your friends and family about the need to protect and enforce laws for the conservation of wild animals.
Extra steps you can take:
Writing for Kids Fight Climate Change: If you are interested in making climate change news more accessible, you should consider joining us! Check out this link: Join the Team | Kids Fight Climate Change: Youth Climate Education
Volunteering at advocacy groups. VolunteerMatch is a great resource to find volunteer opportunities, virtual and in-person. Check out this link: VolunteerMatch
If neither of those options applies to you, there are still ways to raise awareness! Simply by sharing articles such as this one, you are doing your part to spread important climate information. That is activism.
“Laws That Protect Animals.” Animal Legal Defense Fund, July 25, 2023. https://aldf.org/article/laws-that-protect-animals/.
“Extinction over Time.” Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Accessed October 10, 2023. https://naturalhistory.si.edu/education/teaching-resources/paleontology/extinction-over-time.
Siddique, Haroon. “Give Legal Rights to Animals, Trees and Rivers, Say Experts.” The Guardian, October 10, 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/oct/10/give-legal-rights-to-animals-trees-and-rivers-say-experts.
Gamillo, Elizabeth. “Ecuador’s High Court Rules Wild Animals Have Legal Rights.” Smithsonian.com, April 8, 2022. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/ecuadors-high-court-recognizes-that-wild-animals-have-legal-rights-180979862/.
Pallotta, Nicole. “Ecuador’s Constitutional Court Rules Wild Animals Are Subjects of Legal Rights under the Rights of Nature.” Animal Legal Defense Fund, February 21, 2023. https://aldf.org/article/ecuadors-constitutional-court-rules-wild-animals-are-subjects-of-legal-rights-under-the-rights-of-nature/.
Franceschini, Macarena Montes, and Kristen Stilt. “Estrellita the Woolly Monkey and the Ecuadorian Constitutional Court: Animal Rights through the Rights of Nature.” Harvard Review of Lating America, February 1, 2023. https://revista.drclas.harvard.edu/estrellita-the-wooly-monkey-and-the-ecuadorian-constitutional-court-animal-rights-through-the-rights-of-nature/.