Nestled at the heart of the Americas, guest writer Katya Sargeant will explore the animal laws in Ecuador. With its archipelagic province of Galápagos, it is renowned for its astounding biodiversity – boasting more than 4200 species of native fauna. The conservation of Ecuadorian biodiversity is a fundamental motivation of the jurisdiction’s approach to the legal consideration of animals. Although nature is currently recognised as a subject of law by the Ecuadorian Constitution, animal welfare provisions – regulated by the Agencia de Regulación y Control Fito y Zoosanitario (Phytosanitary and Zoosanitary Regulation and Control Agency) – remain piecemeal.
According to the Código Orgánico del Ambiente (Organic Code of the Environment), owners of companion animals, animals used in “work and trade”, animals raised for human consumption, animals used in entertainment, and animals used for experimentation are obliged to satisfy their animals’ basic needs according to Art. 145, namely the:
provision of food,
provision of water, and shelter, according to the requirements of each species;
freedom from aggression and mistreatment;
provision of veterinary care; and
respect of animals’ species-specific natural behaviour.
Under Art. 146 of the same Code, it is forbidden to:
cause death to animals – except those intended for consumption and those that represent a risk of transmission of disease;
practise bestiality or zoophilia;
mistreat, harm, or abandon animals;
keep animals crowded or permanently isolated;
supply harmful [substances] whose ingestion can cause pain, illness, or death;
engaging or attempting to engage an animal in fights, except where Art. 148 permits this; and,
perform other activities which are prohibited by Autonomous Municipal Governments [...].
Companion and service animals
In addition to the provisions under the Código Orgánico del Ambiente, the “unnecessary” killing or injuring of a domestic animal may be punished with a prison sentence and a fine, according to Art. 414 of the Ecuadorian Código Penal (Criminal Code). Under Art. 604, those who “harm or torture an animal, even when it is to induce service; those who kill an animal without need; those who govern animals with sharp instruments capable of causing injury; those who use injured or mistreated animals” may be fined.
Decentralised Autonomous Municipal and Metropolitan Governments (Gobiernos Autónomos Descentralizados Municipales o Metropolitanos) are obliged, under Art. 149 of the Código Orgánico del Ambiente, to implement adoption programmes for rescued animals and vaccination campaigns, and, under Art. 150, to implement temporary shelters for abandoned and mistreated animals, which may sterilise animals and provide veterinary care.
Captive animals used for “entertainment”
Art. 146 of the Código Orgánico del Ambiente prohibits the incitement and facilitation of fighting between dogs and other “urban animals”, which is punishable with a prison sentence under Art. 250.2 of the Ecuadorian Código Penal.
Bullfighting and cockfighting remain lawful, however, provided, since 2011, that the animals are not killed in the square/arena (see Decreto Supremo (No. 2830)) – despite the inevitability of death caused by the inflicted wounds.
Art. 146 also stipulates a nationwide ban on the use of native animals in circuses with restrictions on the use of exotic animals, and a ban on the importation of both native and exotic wild animals with circuses.
Farmed terrestrial animals
The primary provision concerning farmed animals is the 2017 Ley Orgánica de Sanidad Agropecuaria (Organic Law of Agricultural Health). Art. 48 requires farmers to “[consider] the needs that must be satisfied for all animals to prevent suffering: hunger, thirst, physical discomfort, pain, wounds, illnesses, fear, anguish, being unable to display natural behaviour.” These welfare conditions must be “considered” for “handling and transporting animals by land, sea, and air.”
Species-specific regulations, however, are limited in scope and remain anthropic: regulations focus on the control and prevention of species-specific diseases, not the active promotion of animals’ well-being. Furthermore, slaughter regulations according to the Ley de Mataderos (No. 5102) (Slaughter Law) are minimal: transportation welfare regulations exist only regarding the state of transportation vehicles; no maximum duration of live transport is stipulated; and non-stunned slaughter remains lawful.
Farmed aquatic animals
In recent years, Ecuador has made progress in sustainable fishing by reducing overfishing and the overexploitation of species following EU complaints. However, the term “bienestar” (welfare) is absent from the primary pieces of welfare concerning the development of fisheries (such as the Ley Pesca y Desarrollo Pesquero (2016) (Law of Fisheries and Development of Fisheries)): the health (“sanidad”) of farmed fish appears to be relevant only insofar as contamination of the food chain and wider environment are concerned.
In 2008, Ecuador became the first state in the word to recognise nature as a legal entity: the Constitucion (Constitution) enshrines the “Rights of Nature” which establish an ecosystem’s legal right to exist and regenerate.
When considering the 2022 habeas corpus case of Estrellita the woolly monkey, the Ecuadorian Constitutional Court ruled that individual animals could be considered as rights holders under the Rights of Nature, focusing on their individuality and intrinsic value. This is relevant since protecting only species, and neglecting individual animals, endangers a significant number of animals and engenders extinction (paragraph 126).
The Court also outlined the rights that apply to some or all animals, including the:
Right to exist (paragraph 111)
Right not to be hunted, fished, captured, collected, extracted, kept, detained, trafficked, traded, or exchanged (paragraph 112)
Right to the free development of their animal behaviour (paragraph 112)
Right to freedom and good living (paragraph 119)
Right to demand their rights from the competent authorities (paragraph 121)
Right to life (paragraph 155): animals must be ensured life in an environment free from disproportionate cruelty, fear, and distress (paragraph 137)
The judgement, however, made clear that “legitimate” human uses of animals will not be affected by these rights. For instance, paragraphs 102-103 established that “insofar as human beings are predators, and being omnivorous by nature, their right to feed on other animals cannot be forbidden.” Similarly, according to paragraph 109, “the domestication of animals has served to enable humans to [...] provide transportation, help in work, for clothing and footwear; and even [provide] recreation and leisure.”
As a Natural Heritage of Humanity site and listed Biosphere Reserve, it is the duty of the Ecuadorian State to the world to preserve the Galápagos Islands. The 1998 Ley Orgánica de Régimen Especial de la Provincia de Galápagos (Organic Law of the Special Regime of the Province of Galápagos) is the primary piece of legislation that seeks to maintain the integrity of terrestrial and marine areas, whilst facilitating responsible and sustainable human development on the islands. The law deals with the control of introduced species, regulation of transport of introduced organisations, and the establishment of a quarantine inspection system.
What’s next for animals?
Over the past 20 years, significant legislative progress has been made for Ecuadorian animals, and the Estrellita ruling has opened a door to a wealth of possibilities in court. There remain, however, clear areas for improvement, including:
a single piece of animal welfare legislation (Ley Organica de Bienestar Animal – LOBA) to raise awareness of the defence and obligations of humans to animals;
the reforming of Art. 585 of the Ecuadorian Código Civil (Civil Code) which currently considers animals as “self-moving objects” to recognise animals as autonomous and sentient beings with intrinsic value; and,
regulations on farmed terrestrial and marine animals that focus on well-being as opposed to “health”.
This post is not legal advice and should not be relied on as such. If you require legal advice on animal protection laws please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.