Rights of Nature movement spreads as India and New Zealand give legal personhood to glaciers and rivers

Photo: Creative Commons, Rita Willaert, 2005

The latest countries to give legal rights to nature in conservation efforts are New Zealand and India, who both handed down rulings recently.

New Zealand awarded legal personhood to the Whanganui river after the Maori tribe won litigation to protect the river in March of 2017. The ruling now makes it illegal to do harm to the river. The tribe has been fighting for the river to be recognized as their legal ancestor for 140 years, making it the longest litigation battle in New Zealand history.

In India, courts granted legal personhood to Himalayan lakes, forest, waterfalls and to the Gangotri and Yamunotri glaciers, in addition to the same rights granted to the Ganga and Yamuna rivers, which are fed by the glaciers, in March. The decision was in part spurred by the fact that the glaciers have been receding at alarming rates and the two rivers have suffered extensive pollution damage from human sources.

The Rights of Nature conservation movement has been picking up steam ever since Ecuador gave legal rights to nature in their constitution in 2008, and has since spread to other countries like Bolivia and cities in the United States like Santa Monica, California, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Last updated April 27, 2017

Through collaborative partnerships, we support innovative projects that protect vulnerable wildlife from extinction, while restoring balance to threatened ecosystems and communities. Our work is divided into six main program areas – Wildlands Conservation, Oceans Conservation, Climate Change, Indigenous Rights, Transforming California, and Innovative Solutions.

Explore Our Programs

Sign up to receive updates about our work.

Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing. Please check the box below if you would like to hear from us via email:

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. For information about our privacy practices, please check out our privacy policy.


Check out our privacy policy for details on how we protect and manage your submitted data.