Culture & Ethics Icon Culture & Ethics
Life Sciences Icon Life Sciences

Ecuador’s Highest Court Grants Rights to Wild Animals

Wesley J. Smith
Photo: A woolly monkey, by Evgenia Kononova, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The “nature rights” movement is not a benign attempt to improve environmental practices. Rather, it seeks to upend human exceptionalism and elevate animals — and even geological features — to rights-bearing beings or entities.

Ecuador has instituted the rights of nature into its constitution. Now, the highest court there rules that making a wild monkey a pet 18 years ago — before nature had rights in Ecuador — violated the monkey’s rights. From the Climate News story (my emphasis):

Wild animals, the court said, generally have the right “not to be hunted, fished, captured, collected, extracted, kept, retained, trafficked, marketed or exchanged” and the right to the “free development of their animal behavior, which includes the guarantee of not being domesticated and not forced to assimilate human characteristics or appearances.”

Those rights emanate from animals’ innate and individual value, and not because they are useful to human beings, the court said. That distinction is important because courts typically have interpreted rights of nature laws as applying to entire ecosystems, made up of many animals and inanimate aspects of the biosphere like rivers and forests.

Viruses and Bacteria Matter, Too

In other words, nature rights apply to individual animals. And, one would assume, to be consistent, to individual plants, insects, water, and (what the hell) germs too. Why not? Viruses and bacteria are part of nature, after all.

By the way, Switzerland’s constitution already accepts the dignity of individual plants. The highest court in New York will soon rule on whether an elephant is a non-human person entitled to a writ of habeas corpus.

What if This Goes On?

If current trends continue, humankind will suffer self-inflicted, catastrophic harm. What if fish in the sea, for example, have a right not to be caught and consumed by us? (Seals will be free to continue to eat them.) What if deer have a right not to be hunted?

And what would keep those same rights from being extended to domesticated animals? The Ecuador court refused to go there. But why not, once one accepts the premise that animals and nature are people, too?

We live in a topsy-turvy world. Anyone who says, “It can’t happen here,” is living in a dream. The time is now — not later — to stop rolling our eyes and impede this movement before it gains any more traction. For a start, Congress and each state should pass laws stating that no animals or elements of nature have any rights or legal standing in courts.

If we continue to refuse to take this movement as seriously as its adherents do, don’t say I didn’t warn you when the hammer falls.

Cross-posted at The Corner.