The Constitutional Court has recognized that wild animals are subject to protection rights as they are part of nature. The sentence was published Saturday, February 5th, but was issued in the Court’s session of January 27th. The sentence had six votes in favor from the Constitutional Judges Karla Andrade Quevedo, Ramiro Avila Santamaría, Agustín Grijalva Jiménez, Alí Lozada Prado, Teresa Nuques Martínez, Daniela Salazar Marín and Hernán Salgado Pesantes. There was one abstained vote from Judge Carmen Corral, one vote against the ruling from Judge Enrique Herrería.
Case No. 253-20-JH named as the “Mona Estrellita” case, originated with the presentation of a habeas corpus — constitutional action aimed at stopping an illegitimate detention — in favor of the chorongo monkey (lagothrix lagothricha) called Estrellita . The monkey had lived in Ambato for 18 years with Ana Beatriz Burbano, a woman who perceived herself as the monkey’s mother. According to the court ruling, Burbano said that over the years Estrellita became a member of the family, that she had acquired their customs and that she communicated through gestures and sounds. The monkey had lived with the family since her first month of life.
The authorities learned of Estrellita’s living conditions through an anonymous complaint made on September 28, 2018.
After finding evidence that the monkey was in the woman’s house, the authorities raided the home on September 11, 2019. The personnel of the Special Operations Group entered the house to take the monkey, and afterward sent it to the San Martín Eco Zoo in Baños, a canton near Ambato.
According to the authorities’ report, the monkey was in a regular state health, but was aggressive towards other people after 18 years of living in Burbano’s house. After being evaluated by a veterinarian, the monkey was found to be underweight and suffering from malnutrition, depigmentation of the coat, partial loss of hair on the inside of the left arm, dry or flaky skin, and tooth wear. On October 9, 2019, Estrellita died of cardiorespiratory arrest caused by respiratory failure, kidney, and liver problems.
On December 6, 2019, Burbano filed a habeas corpus against the Ministry of the Environment, Jesús Vega, owner of the Ecozoological and the State Attorney General’s Office. Ana Burbano wanted the Ministry of the Environment to grant her a custody license for the monkey, but it was not granted because the Estrellita monkey had already died when that constitutional action was filed.
On January 14, 2020, the Ministry of the Environment declared that Ana Burbano had committed a very serious infraction, according to the Organic Code of the Environment. It ordered her to pay $3,940 and ordered the confiscation of the animal, which had obviously already been done.
The Constitutional Court’s decision
The Constitutional Court reviewed the sentences issued in a habeas corpus action in favor of a woolly monkey named “Estrellita.” The judgment of the Court is to generate jurisprudence, that is, so that this is a precedent and that, from now on, that reference can be applied in other cases.
The sentence says that the Constitution of Ecuador goes beyond anthropocentrism, where the human being is the center of nature and that, for that reason, nature is considered a subject of rights.
The ruling also recognizes what the Inter-American Court of Human Rights had already said: that nature must be protected.
The sentence clarifies that the protection rights of wild animals “cannot be equated” to those recognized for human beings. It says that the rights of wild animals are recognized based on the principles of interspecies and ecological interpretation. This principle dictates that the characteristics, processes, life cycles, structures, functions, evolutionary processes of each species and the interaction between species must be observed.
The Court says that to prevent cases like that of the Estrellita monkey from happening again — that is, that they are taken from their natural habitat to live with humans — it established criteria on the possession of wild animals by persons authorized by the Ministry of the Environment or by a public entity:
- Animals must have access to adequate food and water to maintain their health and vigor, wherever they are.
- The environment in which they live must be suitable for each species, with adequate shelter and rest conditions.
- They must be allowed freedom of movement.
- Animals must be guaranteed adequate sanitary conditions to protect their health and physical integrity.
- Animals must be guaranteed the conditions of space and sufficient relationship to ensure the possibility of the free development of their animal behavior.
- Animals must be guaranteed a life in an environment free of violence and disproportionate cruelty, fear, and anguish.
The Court revoked the sentences issued in the habeas corpus process and issued the review sentence, which is the process carried out by the Constitutional Court on enforceable jurisdictional guarantees such as habeas corpus.
The Court declared the violation of the rights of nature, due to the events that caused the death of the Estrellita monkey.
Further, the Court said/ordered that:
- The sentence is a form of reparation in itself.
- The Ministry of the Environment must, in 60 days, create a protocol or regulation to guide the actions of the ministry to protect wild animals, especially those that are confiscated, under retention or restriction of free animal locomotion, that is, natural movements of animals, fish swimming, reptiles crawling or birds flying.
- The Ministry will have 60 days to issue a resolution with minimum conditions that must be met by those who have or care for wild animals.
- The Ombudsman’s Office must carry out a participatory process within a period of six months to prepare a bill on the rights of animals.
- The National Assembly must in two years from the delivery of the project, debate and approve a law on the rights of animals.
Woolly monkeys in Ecuador
According to the Red Book of Mammals, the woolly monkey species is among the species that could become endangered unless its commercialization is controlled. And according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the chorongo species is in the category of vulnerable global threat.