April 28, 2022

Ecuador Gives Rights to Wild Animals, with Help From our Professors

Ecuador’s Constitutional Court recently issued a landmark decision extending the rights of nature to wild animals. In reaching its decision, the Court cited an opinion piece by Professors Lyman and Fromherz of Lewis & Clark Law School’s Global Law Alliance for Animals and the Environment.

On January 27, 2022, the Constitutional Court of Ecuador, issued a landmark decision holding that the rights of nature doctrine, enshrined in Article 71 of the Ecuadorian Constitution, extends to wild animals. The decision opens a new dimension in the legal protection of animals, complementing the more familiar protections flowing from environmental law and animal law.

In reaching its decision, the Court cited an opinion piece authored by Lewis & Clark Law School’s Global Law Alliance for Animals of the Environment (“Global Law Alliance”) entitled Re-thinking the Rights of Nature to Encompass New Protections for Wild Animals. Written by Clinical Professor and Global Law Alliance Director, Erica Lyman, and Latin American Program Director and Adjunct Professor, Nicholas Fromherz, the article foreshadowed the basic logic adopted by the Court. As Lyman and Fromherz explained, prior to the Court’s decision, Ecuadorian jurisprudence on the rights of nature “had followed a place-centric understanding, focusing on rivers, forests, and mountains.” However, as Lyman and Fromherz observed, this approach was not necessarily inevitable as a matter of law. Lyman and Fromherz framed the issue as follows:

Though Ecuador’s Constitution can be read to define “nature” (and thus its rights) as site-centric, it is not entirely apparent that this is the only permissible reading. Article 71 of the Constitution describes “nature” as the place “where life is reproduced and realized”; Article 71 goes on to provide that the State shall “promote respect for all of the elements that form an ecosystem.” The latter phrase, employed as it is in the context of the rights of nature, suggests a legal understanding of nature that coincides with its scientific counterpart: “nature” is an amalgam of several different “elements,” one of which is wildlife.

Employing this basic rationale, the Constitutional Court agreed. As a result, wild animals are now constitutional rights-holders under Ecuador’s rights of nature doctrine.

What does this mean, in practice, for wild animals in Ecuador? Professor Fromherz says that: “The upshot is auspicious, with effects both direct and indirect. In the narrowest terms, the decision requires Ecuador’s Defensoria del Pueblo (Ombudsman Office) to propose a law designed to uphold the rights of wild animals that have been seized following administrative action. But in broader terms, the decision marks a sea-change in the constitutional rights possessed by wild animals.”

Professor Lyman adds that, “Among other rights, the Court explained that wild animals have the right to exist, to freedom, to ‘good living,’ to physical and psychological integrity, to health, to freedom of movement, and to ‘the free development of their animal behavior.’ While we may need to await other judicial decisions to grasp the full implications of these rights, the case sets an ambitious standard and creates space for wild animals who suffer loss of life and home in the name of ‘sustainable development’.”

The Global Law Alliance works to protect both wild animals and the wild spaces they call home and believes that recognition of wild animals’ right to exist, their freedoms, and their integrity are key to unlocking systemic legal reform.


The Center for Animal Law Studies and Environmental Law Program at Lewis & Clark Law School created the Global Law Alliance for Animals and the Environment (Global Law Alliance) as champions for wild animals and wild spaces across the globe.

About the Center for Animal Law Studies

The Center for Animal Law Studies (CALS) was founded in 2008 with a mission to educate the next generation of animal law advocates and advance animal protection through the law. With vision and bold risk-taking, CALS has since developed into a world-renowned animal law epicenter, with the most comprehensive animal law curriculum offered anywhere. In addition, CALS is the only program that offers two advanced legal degrees in animal law (an LLM degree and a Master of Studies degree for non-lawyers, both degrees are offered in person and online) and three Animal Law Clinics. CALS’ Alumni-in Action from more than 20 countries are advancing legal protections and making a difference in the lives of animals around the world.

About the Environmental, Natural Resources, and Energy Law Program

Lewis & Clark Law School’s Environmental, Natural Resources, and Energy Law program is number one in the country according to the U.S. News and World Report rankings and has occupied a top slot in the US News rankings for some 25 years. Founded in 1970, the same year of the first Earth Day and the launch of major federal environmental legislation, the program is celebrating its 50th year in 2020. The program offers over 45 courses in environmental law, including two clinics, the Global Law Alliance and a domestic litigation clinic, Earthrise Law Center, and houses the Green Energy Institute which works to further the transition to a 100% renewable energy grid. It offers two two certificates for JDs focusing on environmental issues and energy issues and also offers a LLM degree and a Master of Studies degree for non-lawyers (both of which can be completed on campus or online).