I need to find a case regarding whether a Gray Wolf can file a lawsuit on its own behalf with regard to the Endangered Species Act. I don't have a specific jurisdiction and I have searched different terms in Westlaw with no luck. Can anyone point me to a case?

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    You may find this law review article interesting, which discusses the legal distinctions between the "rights of nature" (in particular, the rights of species as a whole) vs. the "rights of [individual] animals". If I had to guess, I would assume that given its name, the Endangered Species Act does not confer protections on any individual Gray Wolves, only on the species as a whole. Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 16:51
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    The monkey selfie case might also be useful.
    – SCD
    Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 17:05
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    Related, from the Guardian: Animals to be formally recognised as sentient beings in UK law. "Animals are to be formally recognised as sentient beings in UK law for the first time, in a victory for animal welfare campaigners, as the government set out a suite of animal welfare measures including halting most live animal exports and banning the import of hunting trophies." Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 17:48
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    Ceacean Community v Bush is one of the BEST analysis on Standing for non-human entities and brings it to its point.
    – Trish
    Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 18:05
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    I've rolled-back to version 1 as the first edit to this question "deviates from the original intent of the post. Even edits that must make drastic changes should strive to preserve the goals of the post's owner." Also, that edit summary mentions "mockery in the comments", but the only comments appear to seek clarity and provide useful pointers.
    – user35069
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 7:33

2 Answers 2


Since wolves physically cannot construct and legal petitions pro se, they can't sue in courts on their own. However, the same is true of various humans. The real legal question is whether a wolf (or other animal) has standing to sue (with the aid of a crafty attorney). The question is not entirely decided in the US, but the odds for animals having standing in court are poor.

In the case of Naruto v. Slater, 888 F.3d 418, a macaque in Indonesia took some selfies with an unattended camera. The camera owner published the photos and claimed copyright: PETA and others then filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the photographer, acting on behalf of the macaque (assigned the name Naruto). The court dismissed the case, but the specific reason was that PETA failed to assert "next friend" status, especially that "the next friend has some significant relationship with, and is truly dedicated to the best interests of, the petitioner".

In an earlier decision, Cetacean Community v. Bush, 386 F.3d 1169, the court do not have statutory standing under the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the National Environmental Protection Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act. But there is also Article III (constitutional) standing. The court notes that

Article III does not compel the conclusion that a statutorily authorized suit in the name of an animal is not a "case or controversy." As commentators have observed, nothing in the text of Article III explicitly limits the ability to bring a claim in federal court to humans.


It is obvious that an animal cannot function as a plaintiff in the same manner as a juridically competent human being. But we see no reason why Article III prevents Congress from authorizing a suit in the name of an animal, any more than it prevents suits brought in the name of artificial persons such as corporations, partnerships or trusts, and even ships, or of juridically incompetent persons such as infants, juveniles, and mental incompetents.

Indeed, in Palila v. Hawaii Department of Land & Natural Resources, 852 F.2d 1106, the endangered finch palila sued, being represented by attorneys for the Sierra Club, Audubon Society, and other environmental parties. The lawsuit was successful, in part because the court reasoned that

the bird ( Loxioides bailleui), a member of the Hawaiian honeycreeper family, also has legal status and wings its way into federal court as a plaintiff in its own right. The Palila (which has earned the right to be capitalized since it is a party to this proceeding) is represented by attorneys for the Sierra Club, Audubon Society, and other environmental parties who obtained an order directing the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources ("Department") to remove mouflon sheep from its critical habitat. Sports hunters, represented by the Hawaii Rifle Association, among others, had intervened to dispute the contention that the Palila was "harmed" by the presence of mouflon sheep.

However, the main reason why the suit succeeded was that defendants failed to argue that the bird did not have standing.

The Cetaceans court referred to the Palila case (also 9th Circuit), and dismissed that statement as "nonbinding dicta". Their discussion is then followed with numerous cases where the Palila statement is found to not be a binding holding. There have been some successes, Marbled Murrelet v. Pacific Lumber Co, 880 F. Supp. 1343, in dicta states that

Thus, as a protected species under the ESA, the marbled murrelet has standing to sue "in its own right." Marbled Murrelet v. Babbitt, No. C-93-1400-FMS, slip op. at 9, n. 4 (N.D.Cal. Sept. 1, 1993) (quoting Palila, 852 F.2d at 1107.)

See also Loggerhead Turtle v. County Council of Volusia, Florida, 896 F.Supp. 1170.

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    The Monkey Selfie went to appeals court and the copyright was entirely vested to the photographer, taking away the basis for the suit, even if Naruto would have had standing to sue otherwise.
    – Trish
    Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 17:22
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    @Trish what case established that Slater owns the copyright (assuming you don't mean "the photographer" to refer to the monkey)? As far as I can tell, the case linked in this answer is the most recent one, and it only holds that the monkey cannot own the copyright, not that the human does own it.
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 9:40
  • I'm quite certain that the moment we can document a wolf dictating such a case of its own, the legal restriction will vanish. But it's beyond all possibility that a wolf would be intelligent enough to do so.
    – Joshua
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 16:45
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    @Joshua Unlikely, yes, but beyond all possibility? Brain anatomy varies significantly among domesticated dogs, and we haven't been selectively-breeding them that way for all that long; the oldest breed is something like 2500 years divergent from the rest. We have more powerful selective breeding technology now (genetic modification), there's been progress towards teaching members of existing dog breeds to use language… I wouldn't expect it in our lifetimes, but I wouldn't call it beyond all possibility that a wolf could understand a legal system within the lifetime of our countries.
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 23:19

Only persons have legal standing to file suit.

I am not able to find binding US Federal precedent where a wolf was deemed a non-person, but in general, person is defined as either a natural person (human) or a statutory person such as a corporation, LLC, or trust.


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