The first country in the world granted legal rights to individual wild animals

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While some countries struggle to uphold human rights, Ecuador has gone ahead and ruled that wild animals have distinct legal rights, including the right to exist.

That 7-2 court decision in February was a historic interpretation of the “rights of nature“constitutional laws and elevated the legal status of non-human animals.

“In America, nature rights sounds like a fringe idea, but people don’t realize how common it is around the world,” said animal rights expert Kristen Stilt. Told Inside climate news.

The decision arose from the sad case of a woolly monkey named Estrellita. After being illegally abducted from the wild, Estrellita came to live with librarian Ana Beatriz Burbano Proaño and her family when she was just one month old, where she lived for the next 18 years. During this time, she learned to communicate with them through gestures and sounds and acquired the customs of the family.

Estrellita was later seized by local authorities and suffered sudden cardio-respiratory arrest a month after being transferred to a zoo, where she died.

Before learning of her death, Burbano filed a lawsuit to get Estrellita back, citing the distress Estrellita was likely experiencing, having been so abruptly torn from everything familiar to her.

The case was based on scientific evidence of the cognitive and the social complexity of woolly monkeys (Lagothrix sp.) Argue Estrellita “should at a minimum possess the right to bodily liberty” and “the environmental authority should have protected Estrellita’s rights by considering her particular circumstances before placing her in the zoo”.

The court ruled that authorities and Burbano violated Estrellita’s rights, the former for not considering her specific needs before moving her and the latter for removing her from the wild in the first place.

The court proposed that new legislation be drafted to better enforce these rights in the future.

“The domestication and humanization of wild animals are phenomena that have a great impact on the maintenance of ecosystems and the balance of nature, because they cause the gradual decline of animal populations,” the court recognized. in his decision.

The decision follows a historic decision in Ecuador last year that mining in a protected cloud forest violates the rights of nature.

Ecuador was the first country in the world to recognize the rights of nature at the constitutional level in 2008.

“While the rights of nature were enshrined in the constitution, it was unclear prior to this ruling whether individual animals could benefit from the rights of nature and be considered rights holders as part of nature,” said Ecuadorian environmental lawyer Hugo Echeverría. Explain in a report. “The court said that animals are subjects of rights, protected by the rights of nature.”

Countries like New Zealand and Canada, as well as other provinces and some US cities, have treaties, provisions, or local laws that provide wildlife with similar protections. However, countries have yet to enshrine these rights at the constitutional level, and in many places around the world attempts to protect nature remain extremely dangerous.

The decision clarifies that these rights “to exist, thrive and evolve” are, however, placed in the context of ecological processes, which include biological interactions between species such as predation. They do not equate animals with human beings but nevertheless extend to them the right to be free within the framework of ecological interactions.

This means that hunting, fishing, gathering and forestry are still permitted as long as they are practiced within other pre-existing laws – for example, not in defiance of endangered species laws – and are conducted in such a way as to limit suffering.

“Environmental law generally has not addressed animals that are not considered significant species, such as endangered species covered by the US Endangered Species Act” , mentioned Stilts. “There is a beginning of reckoning that is breaking down the silos of animal law and environmental law, and this case is an important part of that development.”

This rapprochement between the two fields recognizes how interconnected our world is. It only takes one unfortunate interaction with A savage animal to trigger a pandemic or the destruction of a few key individuals to bring down an entire vulnerable species, after all.

The climate crisis and six mass extinctions are intrinsically linked with each other and our attitudes and actions towards the life with which we share our planet.

So in a world where environmental destruction is now affecting so many of us personallysuch laws could help us, as individuals and societies, to make better choices that could benefit everyone.

“These laws are already proving to be an important legal tool to protect nature, including animals,” Stilt said. concluded.

The full decision can be found here in English and in the original in Spanish here.

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