In the year 2022 many countries in the world have not yet guaranteed fundamental human rights, Ecuador is becoming a beacon of hope and setting an example by granting constitutional rights to animals, such as the right to exist. In a landmark decision, the country’s constitutional court ruled by a 7-2 majority that wildlife has clear legal rights covered by the constitutional ‘Rights of Nature’ law.

This decision was the result of the tragic case of a monkey named Estrellita. After being illegally abducted from her natural environment, Estrellita came into the possession of Beatriz Burbano Proano at the age of one month, where she lived for the next 18 years. During her stay with the family, she learned to communicate with them through sign language and sounds and was considered a member of the family. Estrellita was then confiscated by the authorities and taken to a zoo. There, a month later, she suffered a heart attack and died.

Before her death, Burbano had already gone to court to get Estrellita back, claiming that the monkey felt desperate to have been taken from her familiar environment. Burbano even relied on scientific data on the cognitive and social properties of the species (Lagothrix sp.), saying that Estrellita should at least have the right to physical freedom and that the environmental authority should protect her rights by considering specific conditions before placing her in the zoo.

Ultimately, the court ruled that both Burbano and the authorities had violated Estrellita’s rights, the former for removing her from her natural habitat and the latter for failing to recognise the animal’s needs before relocating her. This will lead to new legislation that will better protect these rights in the future.

Domestication and humanisation of wild animals are phenomena that have a huge impact on the conservation of ecosystems and the balance of nature, as they cause a gradual decline in animal populations.

It is worth noting that Ecuador was the first country in the world to recognise the rights of nature at constitutional level in 2008.

Although the rights of nature are enshrined in the Constitution, prior to this decision it was unclear whether animals, as separate entities, could benefit from these rights as part of nature. The court ruled that animals have rights that are defined and protected by the rights of nature – Hugo Echeverria, environmental lawyer

The decision clarifies that animals have the right to exist, develop and evolve in the context of ecological processes. It does not equate their rights with human rights, but gives them the right to be free in the context of ecological interactions. This means that hunting, fishing and harvesting are still allowed, as long as they are carried out within the limits of the law – for example, not on endangered species – and in ways that limit the torture of the animal.

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