Thanks to the heartbreaking story of a wooly monkey that was kept in captivity for the better part of eighteen years, Ecuador has become one of the first countries in the world to recognize the legal right of animals.
In a landmark ruling earlier this month, the Constitutional Court of Ecuador chose to recognize the legal rights of non-human animals. It is seen as an improvement on the country’s original Rights of Nature law which was ratified in 2008 to allow diverse ecosystems to survive and thrive, as well as the 2017 law protecting exotic animals from exploitation in the pet trade.
The country had more than enough reason to pass the latter when it did. The exotic pet trade is notorious for its many violations against environmental statutes prohibiting the capture and eventual sale of wild animals as pets, as well as the cruelty of keepers against captured animals. Indeed, these creatures are severely traumatized by capture, transportation, as well as long-term captivity. The sale of exotic animals as pets is also seen as an issue detrimental to the environment in the context of further endangering already protected species in the wild.
The Sad Tale of Estrellita
While the law is set to benefit numerous animals, it came too late for the wooly monkey that prompted its creation.
Born in the wilds of Ecuador, Estrellita the wooly monkey was captured as an infant, then sold to librarian Ana Beatriz Burbano Proaño with whom she lived for eighteen years. At the time the monkey was purchased, laws preventing the sale of exotic animals were non-existent.
However, this changed when the law was set in place in 2017, prompting raids on pet shops specializing in wild animals. Estrellita was taken from her owner in 2019, and transferred to the San Martín de Baños Zoo where she died less than a month later. Unaware that the monkey died, the former owner tried to get her back by filing a writ of habeas corpus which only came back in 2020.
Nevertheless, in a historic first, the court ruled that the 2008 law regarding the rights of nature could extend to individual animals, further stating that animals in the wild had rights and, in Estrellita’s case, these had been clearly violated on two counts: her initial capture, and her subsequent transfer to the zoo.
A Significant Ruling
The significance of this verdict is that the same approach may be applied to other cases in the future, especially those involving animals captured in the wild and exploited for trade. Indeed, environmental lawyer and activist Hugo Echeverria lauded the decision, stating that it helped push animal rights to the same level as the Ecuadorian Constitution.