We are thrilled Nosey will finally have the chance to rediscover her autonomy at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. Like Beulah, Karen, and Minnie, our elephant clients in Connecticut, she has spent most of her life being forced to perform in circuses, fairs, and other forms of human entertainment without the ability to choose how to live her life. May Nosey’s story energize all elephant advocates even further, to demand what, as a matter of justice, equity, and scientific fact, these extraordinary beings are long overdue: recognition of their legal personhood and fundamental right to bodily liberty. Congratulations and our thanks to all the individuals and organizations that tirelessly worked for this outcome—true sanctuary for Nosey—over a period of many years.
In Tommy and Kiko Chimpanzee Rights Cases, Nonhuman Rights Project To Ask New York’s Highest Court for Permission to Appeal
January 19, 2018—New York, New York—The New York appellate court that last year denied the Nonhuman Rights Project’s habeas corpus petitions on behalf of chimpanzees Tommy and Kiko has denied our motion for permission to appeal its decision to New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.
“The First Judicial Department decision is disappointing, but no surprise,” said NhRP President and lead attorney Steven M. Wise. “We believe it is unjust to condemn extraordinarily complex—indeed autonomous—beings, such as chimpanzees, to a lifetime of captivity for the sole reason they are not human. We think the Court of Appeals should recognize that New York notions of fundamental justice support our arguments in favor of recognizing chimpanzees’ right to bodily liberty, and we are hopeful we will be given the opportunity to make that case.”
Within the next 30 days, the NhRP will file a motion for permission to appeal with the Court of Appeals itself, urging it to reject the First Judicial Department’s erroneous approach to our common law habeas corpus cases and to engage in the mature weighing of public policy and moral principle these novel and complex legal issues demand. We expect that several amicus curiae briefs will support our motion.
Click here for Tommy’s court case timeline and here for Kiko’s court case timeline, including the Memorandum of Law we filed with the First Judicial Department in support of our motion for permission to appeal.
From the HBO premiere of Unlocking the Cage to Tommy and Kiko’s appellate hearing to the filing of our first elephant rights lawsuit, 2017 was a busy year for the Nonhuman Rights Project. We expect 2018 will be no different. Here is a breakdown of what we accomplished—with your support—in the last 12 months and what we have in store for the months ahead:
We continue to litigate habeas corpus cases in New York on behalf of captive chimpanzees Tommy and Kiko. In November, we filed a motion with the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Judicial Department for permission to appeal to their cases New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.
We have begun litigating a habeas corpus case in Connecticut on behalf of three captive elephants, Beulah, Karen, and Minnie, and launched a #RumbleForRights social media campaign to draw attention to the injustice of their legal thinghood.
On Dec. 26, 2017, Judge James M. Bentivegna dismissed the NhRP’s habeas petition on behalf of Beulah, Karen, and Minnie, claiming the NhRP lacked standing and that our lawsuit is “frivolous” because no one had ever brought such a case before in Connecticut. Today, we announced we have the legal fight on their behalf, filing a motion to reargue and asking the Connecticut Superior Court, Litchfield County, to reverse its dismissal of our petition.
In July of 2017, a court in Colombia reversed the refusal of a lower court to issue a writ of habeas corpus to a spectacled bear named Chucho. A higher court reversed that ruling in August. Luis Maldonado (the attorney and law professor who filed the petition for the writ) is appealing, and we are supporting Luis in his efforts however we can.
In April, litigation modeled on the NhRP’s resulted in the release of a chimpanzee, Cecilia, to Projeto GAP’s sanctuary. Cecilia is the first nonhuman animal to be legally recognized as a legal person with rights. She won’t be the last.
Photo: Projeto GAP Brazil
Meanwhile, the arguments we’ve raised in favor of nonhuman animal personhood and legal rights continue to resonate throughout the legal profession and beyond, having been referenced in court cases, hundreds of law review articles, and thousands of media reports around the world. Our unique and careful strategic approach also prompted Animal Charity Evaluators to designate the NhRP a “Standout Charity” for the second time, writing in its November 2017 review that the NhRP’s mission and work “could be the most promising avenue for improving the lives of animals in our society.”
What’s next: Continuing our legal battle on behalf of Tommy and Kiko, we’re waiting to see if New York’s First Department (an appellate court) will grant our request to send their appeal to the Court of Appeals. If the First Department does not rule in our favor on this motion, we will present another motion directly to the Court of Appeals, combined with a first-of-its-kind friend of the court letter jointly authored by approximately 15 Ph.D.-level philosophers who make the philosophical case for nonhuman rights and legal personhood for Tommy and Kiko, and specifically urge the Court of Appeals to reject the erroneous approach adopted by the First Department.
And we’re continuing to fight for sanctuary—without further delay—for Hercules and Leo, who, along with nearly 200 other chimpanzees, remain needlessly at the New Iberia Research Center as Project Chimps works on building out its operational capacity. Save the Chimps remains ready and willing to give lifetime sanctuary to all of our chimpanzee clients.
California, here we come!
We view California as a highly promising state for the NhRP. In 2017, I gave a talk about the work of the NhRP at the California Supreme Court at the invitation of Associate Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar. Having completed the first round of research on California common law, we’ve set a deadline of March 10th for each member of our legal team to digest 3615 pages of cases and statutes and be ready to argue about what they mean!
What’s next: In March, our legal team will meet in New York to begin laying concrete plans to litigate on behalf of nonhuman animal clients in California. We hope to file our first case in the state in 2018.
We’re working with more than a dozen legal groups on almost every continent to assist them in their struggle to attain legal personhood for nonhuman animals. In November and December, NhRP Executive Director Kevin Schneider spent two weeks traveling throughout India and Nepal, and I was in Nepal as well to give a keynote at the 10th Asia For Animals Conference.
What’s next: The NhRP legal team has already begun digging into the most important recent decisions of the Indian high courts discussing nonhuman animals, and we are assisting in the creation of a working group to pursue the first cases aimed at securing legal personhood and rights for nonhuman animals in India. We are also working to build groups in other parts of Asia and have more screenings of Unlocking the Cage in the works there. In May, I will travel to Hong Kong for a conference of animal lawyers from throughout Asia, then on to Malaysia, India, and likely Nepal and Bhutan to help advance the struggle for the personhood of nonhuman animals in those countries.
The creativity of poets, novelists, filmmakers, painters, photographers and other artists is vital to the nonhuman rights movement, encouraging people to rethink how we view and treat members of other species and setting the stage for meaningful changes to the legal status quo. That’s why we were delighted to work with author Thalia Field and the small press Solid Objects on a January 2017 benefit for the NhRP in New York City featuring readings from Thalia and other writers engaged with urgent animal and environmental advocacy issues. And in Chicago in July, NhRP Executive Director Kevin Schneider and photographer Colleen Plumb led a teach-in on the concept of legal personhood for nonhuman animals hosted by the Catherine Edelman Gallery at Facets Cinematheque.
And, as I have said before, every social justice movement needs a song—which is why earlier in 2017 we released a music video for “Meant To Be Free,” which Alex Forbes and I co-wrote (originally for the closing credits of Unlocking the Cage before it was replaced with a song by Bob Dylan). I hope you enjoy it!
"Meant To Be Free": An Original Song by Steve Wise and Alex Forbes - YouTube
What’s next: In early 2018, we’ll debut an animated video designed to raise awareness of the importance of nonhuman rights. We’re also working on an Artists for Nonhuman Rights virtual gallery and an e-book featuring stories, poems, and essays that resonate with the NhRP’s work.
Unlocking the Cage
In February, Unlocking the Cage—Chris Hegedus and D A Pennebaker’s documentary about the NhRP—premiered on HBO, reaching more than a million viewers, while Amazon and iTunes made the DVD available for purchase. Throughout 2017, we helped supporters host dozens of free screenings of the film in their own communities.
Unlocking The Cage (HBO Documentary Films) - YouTube
What’s next: We have more screenings in the works, and you can still sign up to host one in your community via our Unlocking the Cage campaign.
Thank you for joining the NhRP for all this and more! Here’s to a more just 2018 for all animals.
Nonhuman Rights Project Continues Legal Fight For Elephant Rights In Connecticut
January 17, 2018—Hartford, CT—Today the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) announced it has filed a motion to reargue with the Connecticut Superior Court, Litchfield County, asking the court to reverse its dismissal of the habeas corpus petition the NhRP filed in November on behalf of three elephants—Beulah, Minnie, and Karen—held in captivity for decades as part of a traveling circus based in Goshen, CT.
In this motion, filed late yesterday, the NhRP argues that the court made significant errors in its Dec. 26th, 2017 dismissal of the petition, the first suit in the world to ask a court to recognize elephants’ fundamental right to bodily liberty.
Foremost among the errors the NhRP brings to the court’s attention:
As the NhRP set forth that it is seeking a good faith and principled extension of the common law that is well-supported by expert affidavits and general principles of law, by definition its case cannot be properly labeled a “frivolous” case simply because it is novel.
The Court ignored long-standing Connecticut precedent in concluding that the NhRP does not meet the requirements for third-party standing in a common law habeas corpus action and relied upon a decision of the US Supreme Court that has not been adopted in Connecticut.
Assuming that Supreme Court decision does apply, the Court erroneously concluded that the NhRP did not fulfill the requirement, specifically, by failing to allege that the elephants lack any “significant relationship” with another “person” who would be better placed to bring a case on their behalf.
The NhRP filed its habeas corpus petition on behalf of Beulah, Karen, and Minnie on Nov. 13, 2017 with the support of world-renowned elephant experts including Joyce Poole and Cynthia Moss. The NhRP is asking the court to recognize their common law right to bodily liberty, order the elephants freed from their decades-long captivity, and order their transfer to the Performing Animal Welfare Society’s ARK 2000 natural habitat sanctuary, where they will be able to choose how to live their lives while living in a community of elephants.
Commenting on how the NhRP arrived at its next steps in the case, Wise said, “Connecticut law allows us the opportunity to ask the Court to reconsider its ruling based on the errors we are bringing to its attention. If the court does not agree we are asking it to allow us to amend our Petition to conform with that law. If the Court denies us on that ground as well, we will appeal. No matter what happens, this is just the beginning of our rights-based litigation on behalf of these and other elephants.”
The NhRP filed its first habeas petitions in New York on behalf of chimpanzees Tommy, Kiko, Hercules, and Leo in December 2013. Victories in these suits include the NhRP being granted standing to sue whenever the courts addressed standing (lack of standing is the most common reason courts dismiss cases filed on behalf of nonhuman animals) and securing the first-ever hearing to determine the lawfulness of a nonhuman animal’s detainment. In 2016, litigation modeled on the NhRP’s resulted in the recognition of a chimpanzee, Cecilia, as a legal person with rights in Argentina and her transfer to a sanctuary in Brazil.
CASE NO.: LLI-CV-17-5009822-S: NONHUMAN RIGHTS PROJECT, INC. on behalf of BEULAH, MINNIE, AND KAREN, Petitioner, v. R.W. COMMERFORD & SONS, INC. a/k/a COMMERFORD ZOO, and WILLIAM R. COMMERFORD, as President of R.W. COMMERFORD & SONS, INC., Respondents.
My earliest memory of what I feel about animal captivity was in my parochial school gymnasium in 1980 when the nuns pulled down a big white projection screen and the entire school viewed the film Born Free, about an orphaned lion club and the humans who helped her. Tears streamed down my face as Joy and George finally released Elsa back into the wild to the life she was born to have.
Born Free Trailer - YouTube
Later, when my parents took us to the Barnum and Bailey Circus, I cringed and my stomach ached when I saw the tigers whipped into submission and the elephants dressed like clowns. One day my friends suggested we visit SeaWorld, and my thoughts were of whales and dolphins being torn from their natural environment only to swim in circles for a long meaningless life in captivity. There was absolutely no awe or entertainment in it for me, and I wouldn’t be a part of it. The only thing I felt was horrified.
Today, when you ask my children, “Have you ever been to a circus?” Their response is, “No, because the elephants are abused.” I have heard many times from friends and family, “The circus is harmless.” Harmless is hardly a word that would describe being torn from your family and forced to live in chains in an unnatural environment for decades.
I have always felt that if people stopped for one moment to look at the body language of these nonhuman animals, they would easily see what I see: the elephant is swaying back and forth because she is distressed; the captive orca’s dorsal fin is collapsed because of what you have done to him; the animals are cowering and performing tricks because they have been beaten into submission.
When my youngest child was about three years old, a cat scratched her at an adoption event. The other parents were up in arms. My response to my daughter was, “He just told you to leave him alone. It’s the only way he has to communicate that to you.”
I never felt like I quite fit in until I became involved in animal rights as an adult and began communicating with like-minded individuals who acknowledged the capacity of other species to suffer just as we do and were doing what they could to alleviate it. My turning point as an advocate was in August 2016 when I began speaking to attendees of the Meadowlands State Fair in East Rutherford, New Jersey about the elephant being forced to give rides over and over in circles in a blacktop parking lot, no soft grass anywhere to be found, all while she was threatened with a bullhook and the teenagers riding her disrespectfully jabbed their feet into her sides as they laughed.
Meadowlands Fair 6-27-12 - YouTube
At the time, I didn’t know the name of the elephant or know how I could get involved to make a change. I only knew that I needed to finally act on the pit in my gut to try to do something about it. So I began to write letters on behalf of the elephant attending the Fair each year. Little did I know that the one elephant was actually three different elephants, Beulah, Karen, and Minnie, one of whom traveled each summer from the Commerford Zoo in Connecticut to East Rutherford.
Amy: “A Commerford elephant giving rides at the Meadowlands State Fair, August 2017, taken by my sister Kristen Morgan who attends the fair each year. Kristen questioned the handler in 2016 and was told the elephant was retiring. However, the same elephant showed up again in 2017. Gun shots were also fired at the Fair in June 2017.”
To help end the suffering of these elephants, I made pleas on social media for potential fairgoers to boycott the fair and encourage the organizers to no longer allow Commerford to bring the elephants; if this happened, the Fair could easily go on without any interruption. I wrote about the advertising of the elephant performances as “educational.” Had the people who made the decisions ever taken a moment to view the “elephant crushing” training videos, which show how humans control these cognitively and emotionally complex beings? I included YouTube links in my letters. I also used my Facebook and Instagram accounts to educate people about elephants and their actual needs versus what we are able to give them in captivity.
In all of my letter writing on behalf of the Commerford Zoo elephants, former First Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey Kim Guadagno was the only government official who responded. Guadagno alerted me to Nosey’s Law and suggested I reach out to then New Jersey State Senator Raymond Lesniak, who had co-sponsored the bill. Lesniak was not only easy to reach via social media but easy to talk to as well. It was a blessing to find out his heart had always been in the fight to help protect elephants and other animals from harm. Lesniak’s legislation was approved by the Senate Committee in September 2016. On January 8, 2018, Nosey’s Law passed the Assembly 62-2-2. To say that I live in a state that will ban all exotic animals from traveling circuses and fairs does not fully capture my joy, tears, and pride.
All of the people who have fought tirelessly for Nosey over the decades prayerfully await the news from Lawrence County District Judge Terry as to whether she will continue living a peaceful life in The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee; free of bullhooks, abuse, neglect, performing, and chains. I am proud to belong to groups like Nosey the Elephant Needs Our Help and Action for Nosey Now who are truly the voice for the voiceless. While we wait, I do the only thing left to do, I pray. When my children come home from school each day, their first question is, “Is Nosey free?”
Amy: “My family and my two future animal rights activists.”
I am also hopeful for Minnie, Beulah, and Karen and the good people of the Nonhuman Rights Project in their quest to free these elephants to PAWS sanctuary, which I wholeheartedly support. The NhRP has made it their mission to provide a voice to those who cannot defend themselves and are so desperately in need of it. When I heard about the NhRP’s elephant rights lawsuit, I felt a sense of relief. There are people who know that what is going on isn’t right and they are doing something about it.
When I hope and pray for the Nonhuman Rights Project and freedom for Beulah, Karen, and Minnie, I can’t help but remember the famous words of Margret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”
Collectively, we as animal advocates don’t turn away because it is hard to watch. We watch even when it hurts and try to figure out how to not only help these individuals animals but also change the world so that it is more just for all. That’s what the NhRP’s lawsuit is all about.
Currently in Pakistan there is an elephant named Kaavan. For the past three decades, since he was a baby of between one and two years old, he has been held in conditions not fitting for any being. Considered property, he was a diplomatic gift from the Sri Lankan government to the Pakistan government in 1985. Many people are aware of Kaavan and his story of being tightly chained almost his entire life in deplorable conditions in the Islamabad Zoo.
Thanks to the hard work of many people around the world, there has been a tremendous amount of activity to get his story into the public spotlight. It is in large part because of social media pressure alerting Pakistani senators, and no less than the Chair of the Senate of Pakistan, to Kaavan’s plight and forcing the local government in Islamabad, which owns Kaavan and manages the zoo, to address some of the conditions in which Kaavan lives.
Part of the misinformation that the zoo presented was that Kaavan had to be chained because he was dangerous. Now, thanks to public pressure, Kaavan is left unchained for longer periods of time, and he has proved them wrong—he is not dangerous.
The zoo owners, managers, and handlers/mahouts have been running this zoo for years with horrific standards of care. The Islamabad Zoo is well known for its consistently bad conditions; its disregard and abuse of numerous animals who are exposed to solitary confinement; extreme heat and extreme cold in inadequate shelter; nutritionally poor diets; punishment; and, in too many cases, avoidable illnesses and death. The animals are viewed as no more than disposable commodities.
Let’s go back to when Kaavan once had a companion elephant named Saheli. She was brought to the zoo in 1991, and after being sufficiently broken in, she was put to work giving rides and having pictures taken by paying customers. When she wasn’t working, she was chained alongside Kaavan. Saheli developed wounds on her legs probably due to chains cutting into her skin. In spite of zoo visitors noticing that Saheli had begun to limp and alerting the management, the zoo administration ignored the gravity of her condition. Finally on April 29, 2012, she collapsed. The zoo veterinarian, who is unqualified in elephant management and medical care, could do nothing for her. Clearly by this time it was too late, and Saheli died on May 1, 2012. Kaavan was chained beside her during her illness and collapse, and as she was hoisted out of the zoo by crane, reports say that he was highly disturbed.
Elephants like the NhRP’s clients Beulah, Karen, Minnie, and the elephant we have been fighting for in Pakistan, Kaavan, are captured from the wild and from their families. Herd members are very often killed in the process of trying to protect the babies. Traumatized babies are shipped from their native habitat to be physically abused and mentally “broken” until they submit to a life as a docile “attraction” of one sort or another in zoos or circuses, giving tourist rides, kept as status symbols, or owned or rented for religious and cultural festivals. All this is even worse when we consider that elephants are scientifically proven to be one of the most intelligent species on earth; they are highly social and form lifelong bonds, are known to show empathy, are body-aware, and many would argue, self-aware.
In 2016, specialists went to the Islamabad Zoo to assess Kaavan and reported that he exhibits ‘severe’ behaviors indicative of stress. No wonder, when his life has been so unnatural, and he has been forced to live much of it chained and unable to take even a step because the chains are so tight. He has suffered interminable years of violent physical abuse to control and train him, and, also like Beulah, Karen, and Minnie, this intelligent being is forced to live day-to-day with so little if any autonomy. His owners are permitted to keep him without attending to even his most basic medical and dietary needs. The recommendations of the specialists—that Kaavan needs veterinary supervision and treatment—have been ignored. There are many photographs and videos of Kaavan chained, obsessively rocking his head and torso, and being financially exploited by his handler.
One year ago, the Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary kindly offered to give a home to Kaavan where he could live autonomously, over time shed his habitualised behaviours, receive appropriate expert medical care, and socialize if he chose to. We are still campaigning for this outcome, which would be at no cost to his owners. It is too late to release him in to the wild because humans have robbed him of the survival skills that he would have learned over the course of his life, but nothing less than an expertly managed sanctuary environment is appropriate for these captive sentient beings.
Arguments against captivity, born out of scientific evidence that even the best of zoos cannot provide sufficiently for elephants, are gaining traction, but we know that the majority of captive elephants worldwide are still held in grossly and systemically inadequate facilities which continually cause premature deaths, diseases, and long-term mental and physical suffering. That is why we need to recognize elephants’ nonhuman legal personhood and fundamental rights. As we continue to learn about elephants, we are increasingly aware that no standard captive environment can replicate an elephant’s complex needs and highly social lives; this includes males like Kaavan who are as social as female elephants—contrary to old beliefs and the continuing mantra of those who hold male elephants in isolated captivity. If we have to destroy the innate characteristics of a nonhuman animal in order to keep him captive, what is the point? As a human species we have failed miserably in this regard because legally and culturally we still view all animals as property.
In Pakistan there are no laws protecting wild animals’ captive in zoos. This litigation of the Nonhuman Rights Project is of great importance to all in recognizing that we need to move forward and protect this extraordinary species, and we believe that this can only be done appropriately through acknowledging that they should have certain rights.
In the introduction to Marjorie Spiegel’s book The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery (1988), Alice Walker writes that animals were no more created for humans than black people for white or women for men. We believe that elephants were not created for humans: they have their own right to exist in this world as they are naturally born to be, and as humans, we should enable them to do that.
Today we issued the following statement from NhRP President Steven M. Wise on the Connecticut Superior Court’s dismissal of our petition for a common law writ of habeas corpus on behalf of three elephants (Minnie, Beulah, and Karen) at the Commerford Zoo in Goshen, CT:
“The Superior Court gave two grounds for its dismissal. The first was the NhRP lacked standing. While we pointed out that, as far back as the days of human slavery, the Connecticut courts have allowed any petitioner to seek a common law writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a detained individual, the Superior Court in our case added the further requirement that the petitioner filing the lawsuit have a ‘significant relationship’ with the detainee, unless a detainee has no significant relationships at all, and that the NhRP failed to allege the elephants have no significant relationships at all. The NhRP had thought it plain that the three elephants have no significant relationships with any petitioner able to file a habeas corpus lawsuit on their behalf against their captors. We are also concerned that the Superior Court in its decision inappropriately analogized their captors at the Commerford Zoo to the elephants’ parents. In each of its prior common law habeas corpus cases in which a court addressed standing, the NhRP has always been found to have standing. We are optimistic we will eventually be found to have standing in this case as well.
The second ground for dismissal was that the Superior Court found the lawsuit to be frivolous because no one had ever brought such a case before in Connecticut. We believe the court failed to consider the manner in which the common law has traditionally changed over the last 800 years. Each of the thousands of common law rules that exist today once did not exist. Each common law rule that exists today was once the subject of the first such case to be brought. In short, there is an important difference between a frivolous case and a novel one. That said we are studying the decision and will likely either seek to amend our habeas corpus petition to add a sentence stating that Minnie, Karen, and Beulah have no significant relationships with anyone able to to file a habeas corpus action against their captors or we will refile our lawsuit so that our petition includes this sentence. Should we be unsuccessful we will, of course, appeal.”
The judge’s comment concerning the lack of the allegation of the elephants’ significant relationship to which Steve refers is in footnote three in the Dec. 26, 2017 decision by Judge James Bentivegna.
In November I traveled to Stockholm and Helsinki to lecture about the work of the Nonhuman Rights Project, to engage in Q&A sessions with audiences following showings of Unlocking the Cage, and to meet the Swedish and Finnish lawyers, legal scholars, and law students who have so diligently been working to lay the foundation for obtaining legal personhood and fundamental rights for nonhuman animals in their countries.
The chair of the joint Swedish/Finnish Legal Working Group is Birgitta Wahlberg, who is soon returning to her native Finland from Stockholm where she will assume the leadership of the new Finnish Group. Birgitta, a legal scholar and fierce advocate for the legal personhood of nonhuman animals, and I spent hours talking about our mutual interest in attaining legal rights for nonhuman animals and our belief that the age of animal welfare and animal protection, which began almost two hundred years ago, is on the wane, while the age of civil rights for nonhuman animals is on the rise.
Steven M. Wise and Birgitta Wahlberg in Sweden in November 2017. Photo: Petrus Iggström
This led to discussions about the differences in the diverse legal systems in which we operate, visit, and teach and how crucial it is for animal advocates in every jurisdiction to get important definitions straight.
The term “animal law” long ago came to mean “animal welfare” or “animal protection,” occasionally leavened with some philosophical thought about rights, while sometimes extending to anything that helps nonhuman animals in almost any way. But with the emergence of the Nonhuman Rights Project, which calls itself a civil rights organization that focuses on the legal rights of nonhuman animals, a distinction between the legal meanings of “animal rights” and “animal welfare” or “animal protection” has moved into courtrooms and is heading to legislatures and administrative agencies around the world.
Members of the Sweden NhRP Legal Working Group. L-R: Charlotte Bille Edholm, Annika Norée, Birgitta Wahlberg, Steven M. Wise, Erica Ström and Clara Ekström. Photo: Petrus Iggström
But the Nonhuman Rights Project frequently encounters people who see only a single field of “animal law.” Some judges, for example, look blankly at us when we insist that we are not in court to protect our nonhuman client’s welfare, but her rights. Others, even in the animal rights movement, insist they are fighting for the “rights” of nonhuman animals but are merely trying to improve their welfare. And so the vagueness with which key animal advocacy terms are deployed has become a important and recurring problem. Journalists want to know precisely what they are writing about. Students are curious to know what the subject of their classes are. Donors insist upon knowing what their donations will be used to promote. Judges and legislators need to know what they should support and what their constituents support and why.
Birgitta has long asked the question “What is ‘Animal Law’?” The leading casebook, Animal Law, says its subject “is, in its simplest and (broadest) sense, statutory and decisional law in which the nature – legal, social or biological – of nonhuman animals is an important factor.” Courses that contain the phrase “Animal Law” are often taught in law schools around the world. However I have never taught a course by that name; I have always taught “Animal Rights Law” or “Animal Rights Jurisprudence” whether I am teaching at Harvard, Stanford, Lewis and Clark, Vermont, or other law schools. We believe these courses are teaching different subjects.
What, we asked each other, were the true relationships amongst “Animal Law,“ “Animal Rights Jurisprudence,” “Animal Rights Law,” “animal rights,” “animal protection,” and “animal welfare”?
We drew diagrams and Venn diagrams in an attempt to puzzle out what these terms stood for and what their relationships were to each other in the hope we might begin to standardize them so that everyone will better understand what the terms being used actually mean, at least in the legal realm.
Here is what we propose.
It seemed to us that the overarching discipline should be called ”Animal Law” or “Animal Jurisprudence” and that there exist three distinct branches, each with a different focus and purpose, though statutes may address more than one branch at the same time.
Animal Welfare/Animal Protection
The first branch concerns the traditional focus on duties imposed upon human beings with respect to how they should treat nonhuman animals in their capacity as rightless “things” or “objects of protection” and more recently, “sentient beings,” that lack the capacity for legal rights. This we propose is be called “Animal Welfare” or “Animal Protection,” which we see as the same thing. While near-toothless when standing alone, as the law concerning humans demonstrates, this branch of “Animal Law” becomes vital when combined with rights.
The second branch concerns the rising new focus on those nonhuman animals who are designated as “persons” with the capacity for one or an infinite number of legal rights. This branch we propose to be called “Animal Rights.” This is the work of the Nonhuman Rights Project.
The third branch is law that regulates human actions that have an indirect impact upon the lives of nonhuman animals without imposing either indirect and enforceable duties upon humans to treat them in a certain way or granting rights to them. Examples include the purchase and sale of nonhuman animals or the relationship between tenants who own nonhuman animals and their landlords. This branch we propose to call “Animal Regulation.”
We hope this blog post is a first step towards clarifying what legal professionals mean when they address that law that affects nonhuman animals.
After a lengthy and rigorous evaluation process, Animal Charity Evaluators has again designated the Nonhuman Rights Project a Standout Charity in its December 2017 Updated Charity Recommendations. The NhRP is one of nine Standout Charities and the only organization among the 12 ACE recommends that is working to secure actual legal rights for nonhuman animals.
“Attempting to secure legal personhood and rights for nonhuman animals could be the most promising avenue for improving the lives of animals in our society,” ACE writes in its summary of the NhRP’s strengths. “As far as we know, the NhRP is the only organization directly pursuing litigation and legislation towards this end, and they seem well prepared to make progress. They have spent substantial effort learning from previous social movements, such as the anti-slavery and LGBTQ+ movements. Additionally, the NhRP’s cases have captured public attention and were even the subject of a 2016 documentary [Unlocking the Cage].”
We appreciate ACE’s focus on the long-term nature of our work and the core issue that drives our mission—the irrationality and injustice of a legal status quo that sees all nonhuman animals as legal “things” with no rights. Evolving standards of morality, scientific discovery, and human experience suggest that at least some nonhuman animals must be recognized as legal persons with the fundamental right to bodily liberty, i.e. not to be “owned” by humans or human institutions or held in captivity.
Read the comprehensive review here. Thank you, ACE, for giving people who care about nonhuman animals an important resource for determining how best to give on this #GivingTuesday and beyond.