Conservation Litigation

Orangutan Outreach is thrilled to introduce our newest partnership: Conservation Litigation. (link opens in a new window)

There are laws in Indonesia making it illegal to buy, sell, trade or own critically endangered orangutans. Yet it still happens all the time. It's time to fight back— in the courts!

Read an in-depth article about Conservation Litigation on Mongabay.

This wonderful short film, Pongo the Stolen Orangutan: How Law Can Heal, tells the story of an illegally traded orangutan and how conservation litigation can be used to help biodiversity.


Conservation litigation refocuses efforts from punishment to remedies.

Many conservation efforts focus on enforcement to protect biodiversity, punishing violators with fines and imprisonment. While these are important actions, they do little to remedy the huge harm caused by actions such as illegal wildlife trade. Fortunately, many countries have legislation that allows for conservation litigation — the use of liability lawsuits to demand that those who cause harm to biodiversity be held responsible for fixing it.

We need to protect threatened species and, when they are harmed, help biodiversity to heal. Conservation litigation uses liability lawsuits to demand that those who harm biodiversity be held responsible for providing remedies to fix that harm. In many countries, existing laws would allow for such conservation lawsuits, but we are not using them yet. A powerful team of conservationists, lawyers, and economists is working to change that.

Criminal sanctions often fail to reflect the true impacts of environmental harm.

Actions such as illegal wildlife trade threaten biodiversity globally. Harm to biodiversity injures not only individual plants, animals and fungi. It can also impact species survival, degrade ecosystems, affect livelihoods, create conflicts over scare resources, and trigger increased public spending on additional conservation measures. Harm to biodiversity can also harm human wellbeing, including culture and science.

The magnitude of these impacts is rarely reflected in the weak sanctions perpetrators receive. This fails to send clear deterrence signals, remedy the harm that occurred, support conservation or compensate victims.

Conservation litigation could offer new opportunities for conservation.

In some countries, liability for environmental harm already provides an important remedy, especially in pollution cases. Those responsible are sued so that they have to clean up their mess, restore ecosystems and compensate victims.

However, this type of litigation is not yet widely applied in many countries, including those biodiversity hotspots of greatest concern to conservationists. Moreover, conservation litigation is not yet being used to address some of the most serious drivers of biodiversity loss, including illegal wildlife trade.

Litigation drives change.

Conservation litigation is an additional enforcement tool with under-realized potential: Not only can it provide remedies in individual cases, but by formally highlighting the diverse values of nature, it can help shift how people think about harm to biodiversity and ecosystems. It can increase financial burdens on those responsible for injuring biodiversity, helping to deter future harm. Conservation litigation can also open new opportunities for citizens and NGOs, in addition to the public sector, to take action for the environment.

As such, conservation litigation demands accountability, provides remedies, sends clear messages to society, and empowers citizens.

It's time to fight back— in the courts! Join the fight! 🦧💪🦧

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