A world first: after nature, Ecuador also gives wild animals legal rights

19 May 2022

In a historic court case, Ecuador became the first country in the world to grant individual wild animals legal rights. They are now regarded as legal persons and, according to the judgment, have the right to exist and not to be hunted, caught, or traded. Which is a milestone for the protection of animals and nature. For years, the Party for the Animals and other political parties for animal rights worldwide have been advocating for the inclusion of animal rights and the protection of nature and the environment in the constitution.

Ecuador is an important champion of the protection of nature and the environment. In 2008, the South American country was the first in the world to include the rights of nature in its national constitution. Now it is making history again by also recognizing the rights of individual animals. This historic decision came about in a lawsuit about a woolly monkey, caught in the wild – a species found only in the Amazon. The animal had been kept as a pet for eighteen years, was confiscated and died in a zoo shortly after. The constitutional court ruled that the woolly monkey should never have been removed from its natural habitat, that it was illegal to possess wild animals and that the needs of the animal had not been taken into account.

The highest court also ruled that animals can be regarded as legal persons and enjoy protection under the rights of nature. This is not only a breakthrough for the animals, but according to international lawyers also a crucial step in the development of environmental law, which usually does not concern animals that are not considered important species. "This decision is of great importance, because now the rights of nature can also be invoked in the interest of individual or small groups of animals," explains Kirsten A. Stilt, a professor of Law at Harvard University. Ecuador has taken animal rights to the highest level and takes the lead in the protection of animals and nature.

Rights for animals and nature

Worldwide, the call to grant animals, nature and the environment rights is getting louder and louder. More and more countries, including Italy, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, New Zealand and Bangladesh are following Ecuador's example by recognizing nature's rights and including environmental protection in the constitution.

The Dutch Party for the Animals has been advocating for years to grant rights to animals and nature. "For companies, this has been happening for a long time and is now completely normalized. The interests of a company are well protected, and it is strange that this is not yet possible in the case of important and vulnerable nature reserves," says Wassenberg. "If nature is also granted rights, the fragile ecology will have a voice against the noisy interests of the economy." Last year, the party submitted a comprehensive proposal on criminalizing ecocide, or the large-scale damage and destruction of ecosystems by human actions.