The idea that non-human animals have rights similar to humans is an evolving concept in international law and two recent rulings in Ecuador and the United States are expanding the boundaries of the concept. Closely involved is the concept of “rights of nature” that seek to expand legal rights to rivers, forests and other non-human entities.
The most recent case is from Ecuador, and concerns a wooly monkey named Estrellita. Wooly monkeys are New World monkeys and weigh nearly 20 pounds and can live about 30 years. They inhabit rainforests in South America. Estrellita had lived with Ana Beatriz Burbano Proano for 18 years. Authorities confiscated the monkey on the grounds that it was illegal to keep wild animals. She was taken to a zoo and died about a month later. Burbano Proano filed suit.
In a sweeping ruling the Constitutional Court of Ecuador extended “rights of nature” provisions to animals. Rights of nature refer to the rights of an ecosystem to survive and thrive. Ecuador was the first nation to put such a provision in its constitution. The court ruled that not only do species have rights but individual animals do too.
The court’s ruling will require Ecuador to enact laws protecting expanded animal rights. The court ruling gives animals sweeping rights Including right to life, freedom from hunting or fishing, access to food and health care, right to a habitat, right to live in harmony, right to freedom, protection from exploitation and the right to demand their rights.
The impact on human-animal relations could be enormous with huge impacts on ranching, fishing, farming, medicine, entertainment, biology, zoos pet ownership and many other day-to-day activities.
It may be ironic but the court appears to have ruled in favor of a person keeping a wild animal as a pet for 18 years and against a zoo trying to insure its welfare and follow existing law.
In a similar vein a U. S. judge weighed in on a Colombian case over which the American court had no jurisdiction.
The case involves what to do with dead drug lord Pablo Escobar’s hippos. The hippos were released in a Colombian river and are likely to be classified as an invasive species and may be subject to sterilization or even killing of individuals to keep the numbers down. Federal Magistrate Judge Karen Litkovitz ruled that the hippos are “interested persons” under U.S. law and have the rights of people. It was believed to be the first time human rights were extended to non-humans in a U.S. Court. Colombian officials dismissed the ruling as irrelevant to Colombian law and the fate of the hippos is under debate. For our recent discussion of animal royalties click here.
It remains to be seen how far Ecuador will go with this ruling. But animal rights groups posted “friend of the court” briefs in the case and are outspoken in their wish that US law follows in Ecuador’s footsteps.