In 2019, the Ministry of the Environment seized a monkey named Estrellita from a family in Ambato who had taken the monkey as a baby from the wild and raised her as a pet for 18 years. After years with the family, the monkey had never grown up in a wild environment. The monkey was reported to the authorities, who seized the animal and transferred her to a zoo (Ecuadorian law prohibits wild animals as pets), where the monkey soon died. Ana, who identified as Estrellita’s mom, then sued, citing habeas corpus, to attempt to get the monkey returned to her custody (she didn’t know the monkey had died in the zoo). The family lost in the first and second instances because the courts said that habeas corpus only applies to humans, and that there is no case because Estrellita died.
The Constitutional Court selected the case to establish binding jurisprudence on whether Ecuador’s constitutional Rights of Nature provisions apply to individual wild animals. Up to now, rights of nature had only been applied to species of animals (e.g., sharks, endangered species). The Constitutional Court considered whether Nature’s rights were violated when Estrellita was removed from her natural habitat, kept in an urban home, and seized by authorities and transferred to the zoo.
In January 2022, the Constitutional Court ruled that Ecuador’s constitutional Rights of Nature provisions do apply to individual animals, stating that “animals should not be protected only from an ecosystemic perspective or with a view to the needs of human beings, but mainly from a perspective that focuses on their individuality and intrinsic value.” Consequently the court found that Estrellita’s rights – specifically to life and to integrity – had been violated in each of these instances, and therefore the rights of nature were also violated. While the court found the habeas corpus “inadmissible because it revolves around the recovery of the corpse of a wild animal,” by admitting it for constitutional review, they affirmed that individual wild animals are subjects of rights under the rights of nature.