Home Society & Culture Scientific Evidence and Global Crises Call for Urgent Legal Protection of the Animal Kingdom

Scientific Evidence and Global Crises Call for Urgent Legal Protection of the Animal Kingdom

Reading Time: 4 minutes

There is a great deal of scientific literature that tells us animals are social and sentient beings. The songs of Humpback whales are passed down through generations. Crows and ravens are renowned for their exceptional problem-solving skills. Elephants display empathy and emotional sensitivity. Chimpanzees and orangutans exhibit complex tool use. Dolphins engage in sophisticated vocalisations and coordinated behaviours. A better-informed public has become more aware of how animals suffer and is demanding greater legal protection for them. These findings alone are compelling grounds for more rigorous legal protection of the animal kingdom, but it turns out that what is good for animals is also good for us.  

We’re not helping

Human activity is driving many of the current global crises that we face, including deforestation, pollution, loss of biodiversity and climate change, each of which is the direct result of humanity’s exploitation and destruction of animals and the natural world.  The plundering of natural resources and the callous destruction of delicate ecosystems and forests have profound consequences for humanity. The exploitation and pollution of the world’s oceans by, among other things, marine plastic pollution and oil spills threaten all ocean life.  Military exercises, such as the testing of bombs and the use of underwater sonar, kill billions of sea animals, while industrial fishing longlines have killed billions more, including many non-target species such as dolphins, whales, and sea turtles, who are written off by the fishing industry as mere “by-catch”.  

The world’s animal-based food systems contribute to global hunger and water scarcity by depleting vital resources that could otherwise be used to address food insecurity and ensure equitable access to clean drinking water to more of the world’s population.  Animal agriculture also fuels deforestation in order to make way for grazing land and feed crops for farmed animals, which increases the frequency of destructive weather events, exacerbates food and water shortages, and results in species extinction. Wildlife trafficking, both legal and illegal, is driving the loss of biodiversity and the rise of zoonotic diseases, such as COVID-19. Our destruction of the natural world also has profound implications for national security, as scarce resources, including food and water, lead to a growing number of wars and conflicts.

These global crises have cascading, detrimental effects on ecosystems and on human societies beyond food and water insecurity and economic instability. The global threats that we face threaten all life on the planet, yet for the most part, they are unchallenged by legal restraint and, as a result, are accelerating.  Outdated laws that fail to protect the planet’s rich biodiversity and natural spaces are having catastrophic consequences for humanity, but it doesn’t have to be this way. To protect our shared destinies, we must accept that the rights of humans are inextricably linked to how we treat the natural world.  Protecting animals with meaningful and substantive laws, and ensuring that such laws are enforced, is critically important to both people and animals.  

Animal law

The extraordinary legal reforms that we have seen in recent decades, that aim to provide greater legal protection for animals, are a recognition that our actions have profound implications not only for animals and the environment but also for humanity.  Legal systems are increasingly recognising the shared destinies of humans and animals who face the same planetary emergencies, including resource shortages and climate-related threats. The realisation that these global threats threaten all life on the planet is inspiring legal scholars worldwide to change how our laws treat animals. The result of these efforts is the development of a new field of law, known as animal law. Enacting meaningful laws that recognise that our future is interconnected and interdependent with other species can help protect the planet for generations to come.  

There is a perception by some that animals are adequately protected under the law.  This is not the case.  It is true that some countries have enacted stronger anti-cruelty laws and new laws in an attempt to fight wildlife trafficking and halt species extinctions.  Other nations have overhauled their laws to protect animals in response to humanity’s growing understanding of the interconnectedness of our world and the animal kingdom. A growing number of countries are even recognising animals as sentient beings, yet humans continue to inflict indescribable suffering and misery on nearly every species of animal. Animals still suffer for our “entertainment” and endure misery and cruelty in research laboratories, on factory farms, for fashion, and in human conflicts.  Wildlife, aquatic animals, and companion animals are not immune from exploitation and abuse.  Humanity’s treatment of animals is unconscionable.  

Despite this pivotal moment in legal discourse, we are at present only in the very early stages of the developing body of animal law. While great initial progress has been made, it is abundantly clear that legal reform requires a far more concerted global effort and a comprehensive legal framework to address the complex issues that are involved in the proper treatment of animals and the recognition of their legal rights. 

Looking in the mirror

Developing robust legal frameworks for the protection of animals will require that we recognise an animal’s right to live free from exploitation and harm. It will also require a sober reflection as to how our own actions contribute to their suffering and how our mistreatment of animals jeopardises our shared destinies.  Strong laws must also empower local communities if we are to protect both people and animals from, for example, the devastating consequences of wildlife trafficking. Implementing stronger and more coordinated legal measures to protect the natural world will help to safeguard vital ecosystems for both human communities and for animal life. When viewed through the prism of an interconnected world, fundamental human rights are inextricably linked to the rights of animals.  

Despite the compelling grounds for legal reform, there are formidable challenges to change.  The convergence of cultural norms and traditions, influential industries and political corruption all pose challenges to enacting laws that adequately protect animals.  Still, there are grounds for optimism. The past two decades have been a watershed moment for the legal status of animals and new laws are starting to take hold in many countries. Because humanity’s destiny is undeniably tied to the destiny of the animal kingdom, the question is not “if” but “when” laws will change.

Kimberly Moore is a senior attorney and a Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics. She is the author of “The Case for the Legal Protection of Animals, Humanity’s Shared Destiny with the Animal Kingdom.  

© Copyright 2014–2034 Psychreg Ltd