Address at the Fifth Annual Oxford Animal Ethics Summer School on Animal Ethics and Law Gala Dinner

24th July 2018

The late Dr. Ian Player dedicated six decades of his life to nature conservation and fought for the survival of the white rhino.  He once told of a dream that haunted him:  “My dream was about a young white rhino,” he said, “which came to lie down next to me and then gently placed its head on my shoulder. That does not need too much interpretation”, he explained, “rhinos still need our help more than ever before.”  This is true today not only for rhinos, but for all animals.  All animals need our help more than ever before.

The importance of laws for animals cannot be overstated in today’s world.  Laws define who we are as a people and reflect our moral code.  Laws define basic rights and liberties, and without laws, there can be no justice when one is harmed by another.  Laws help establish order, and without laws, there is chaos, and just imagine the chaos that animals face as they find themselves at the mercy of factory farms, fur farms, canned hunts, trophy hunters, trappers, live export, research labs, the entertainment industry, the fashion industry and so many other industries that treat animals with such wanton callousness and disregard.  Shouldn’t laws protect these most vulnerable and innocent beings?   

Sometimes laws shape moral standards, sometimes moral standards shape laws, but whether it is society that must conform to new laws, or whether it is society that demands a change to laws, surely change is needed, and how we view captive dolphins, homeless animals and so many other animals is changing, and when society’s moral compass changes, so too must laws change.   We know that when laws are adopted and effectively implemented and enforced, laws can create positive cultural and societal changes.  Progress in areas of civil liberties, human rights and social justice is dependent upon a solid foundation of effective laws.  The same thoughtful enactment and enforcement of laws is needed to protect the rights and interests of animals.

For the monkey who is subjected to painful experimentation time and time again in a research laboratory, laws matter.  For the egg laying hen, who is forced to live on the equivalent of a piece of paper her entire life, laws matter.  For the dairy cow, who grieves every time a calf is taken away, and for the animals who must walk the ramp to their own merciless slaughter, laws matter.  Shouldn’t the legal protection afforded be commensurate with the harm and exploitation levied? If that is true, animals must be afforded the most stringent, the most rigorous, and the most comprehensive set of legal protections available.  Justice demands that we expand our moral legal code to include animals.

As Victor Hugo said, “there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”  Legal protection for animals is an idea whose time has come, because as we reflect on our treatment of animals, we realize that we too … women, ethnic groups, refugees and other minorities … were once at the mercy of a system that didn’t recognize our rights and that didn’t protect us, and we understand that we truly cannot enjoy our own freedom, when freedom itself is illusive, and is denied to so many others.  Legal systems that treat animals as mere “property” fail to reflect evolving public opinions as to how we should treat animals, and fail to recognize rapidly developing science.

We are learning more and more every day that animals are highly intelligent beings, with consciousness, complex cognitive abilities, and a sense of self, who form strong family ties, strong societal bonds, who grieve and mourn the loss of companions, and who communicate in ways we have only begun to understand. Koko, a gorilla, could communicate with humans using sign language and understood 2,000 English words, an extraordinary achievement when you consider the progress of international scientists struggling to understand the language of dolphins. Pigs can play video games. Dolphins use sonar.  Rhinos use breathing signals as messages.  Elephants show empathy and offer comfort to others in distress, and even crows use tools.  These facts are not for our mere amusement, but rather are compelling grounds for building legal systems that are worthy of their value and legal systems that empower and protect them.  The tree of justice must provide protection, not just for us, but for all beings, and the fruits of that tree must be shared, not just among ourselves, but with everyone, and every being.   How we treat animals is one of the great injustices of all time, but the tide is changing. 

Countries, including India, Ireland, Italy, Scotland, Venezuela, Romania, and others have all adopted laws to ban the use of wild animals in circuses. Nations are adopting stronger animal protection laws, with some countries, like Lebanon, signing first ever animal welfare bills into law.  Anti-cruelty laws are being strengthened all over the world, including countries in South American and Asia, with prison sentences handed out in Canada and Spain for cruelty to farm animals.  Antiquated laws requiring chemical and cosmetic testing on animals are being updated, or better, eliminated. Legal systems in places like Nepal and Mexico are outlawing the sacrifice of animals during festivals. Countries are tackling poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking, with China banning domestic ivory trade, and new laws are being passed to protect captive animals in bullfights, circuses, aquariums, zoos, and other entertainment venues.  More and more countries are tackling the global skin trade, with countries like the Belgium, the Czech Republic and Germany, banning (or regulating out of existence) fur farming, and laws are being passed to protect some of the most vulnerable and forgotten animals — those at the mercy of our food system, with laws banning extreme confinement and other inhumane agricultural practices, and in Italy and Switzerland, you can no longer boil a live lobster, because it causes undue suffering.  Among the most promising of legal developments, courts and jurisdictions are finally starting to consider animals as something more than just mere “property” but rather, as sentient beings or even as legal “persons” under the law, worthy of greater legal protection. Just last month, Luxembourg banned fur farming because “animals are no longer considered as a thing, but as gifted non-human living beings with sensitivity and holders of certain rights”, and this month a High Court in Northern India declared that animals are “legal entities with distinct persona and corresponding rights, duties and liabilities”.   Change is coming. 

But while laws matter, a change in laws is just the beginning of what must be a much broader, more comprehensive and globally integrated system of rules, as well as national, regional and local laws, that protect animals in ways that are both meaningful and effective.  Complex legal principles must be considered for animals.  Equal protection of the law, after all, means little for a dog languishing in a research lab, while his counterparts are afforded special consideration in family law courts.  Justice must be blind, not just for us, but for all species, because we know that pigs are just as intelligent and playful as dogs, and that chickens are certainly more sociable than cats. 

Laws must be in place not only to protect animals, but to protect those who protect animals.  The undercover activists, documenting animal cruelty in factory farms will tell you that laws matter. The families of the untold number of environmentalists and conservationists slaughtered because they were simply protecting animals and their habitats will tell you, that laws matter.  The families of the more than 1,000 rangers killed in the line of duty in the last decade  … you heard that right, 1,000 rangers have given their lives protecting Africa’s at-risk wildlife  … their families will tell you, that laws matter. 

If he were alive today, Dr. Player would be devastated to know that in 2017 alone, 1,028 rhinos were killed nationwide in South Africa, and yet, as devastating as that statistic is, it is only one part of a much larger tragedy of animals being under such tremendous assault that are literally being pushed to extinction. Serious legal reforms must be passed to safeguard against natural habitat loss, to protect and create new conservation areas and preserves, and to address the critical issues of climate change, pollution, international conflict, and wildlife trafficking, because global biodiversity is being lost at a much faster rate than natural extinction due in large part to how we treat animals and their habitats. 

Laws matter, but it isn’t enough that laws are just passed.  Laws are meaningless if penalties are so minimal or inconsequential as to lack any deterrent, or if laws are not enforced, or if resources are not committed to ensure proper implementation. We know that all too often, politicians, and countries alike, conveniently look the other way when an animal’s interest is at stake.  But shouldn’t those charged to protect the most vulnerable in society be held to the highest standard?   Wildlife protection may not be seen as a priority by some, but in Kenya, where poaching is reaching critical levels, lawmakers have gone so far as to even call for the death penalty because the Wildlife Conservation Act, enacted in 2013, has failed to deter poaching, even with life sentences, and just imagine that, the death penalty.  That double tragedy of loss of human and animal life should be a wake-up call for all of us and all of our leaders, and every nation should be enacting laws and committing resources to prevent such unnecessary loss of life.  The challenge is great, because where desperate poverty and greed intersect, we will always find animals suffering and exploited.  Laws must be passed that both lift up and empower people if we are to lift up and empower animals, and the world’s political elite must act, and must act quickly, to enact and enforce laws, or species on the brink of extinction will be lost for future generations. Laws matter.   

We are not naïve and we know that this won’t be easy.  No rights movement has ever been easy.  We have a long history of oppression, even against our own kind.  Whether it be gender, skin color, or ethnicity, our history of oppression continues to this day, but this reality should not prevent us from seeking legal protection and justice for those who are even more different than us.  Indeed, that should inspire us even more.  History has taught us that our own freedom and liberty are at stake when others are oppressed, and that until all beings are free, we ourselves are not free.  Some might ask how, given so much work that remains to be done on human rights, can we possibly ask for legal rights for animals? But that’s the thing about rights movements – they work in tandem with one another, each re-enforcing and providing strength and encouragement to the others, and as one group of oppressed beings are lifted up, it opens a door, through which others may pass.    

Still, as we envision what we hope will be a new dawn for animal protection, we understand that much work remains. Tradition, culture, and even religious practices all present formidable challenges.  Some of the darkest places on earth, where unspeakable atrocities are committed against animals, are places where animals are afforded no legal protection. On bile farms, factory farms, and fur farms, we have seen the battered bodies and the broken spirits, and we have heard the wails, the screams, and the cries, and they are screams and cries for justice, but without laws to protect their interests, there can be no justice. Laws matter. 

Human rights and animal rights are, and will forever, be linked.  We know that when we prevent violence against animals, studies show that we prevent subsequent violence against people … and when we force animals to exist in such extreme confinement that antibiotics are needed to just keep them alive, we do so at own health peril  … and when we destroy habitats for our insatiable desire for animal flesh, we suffer the consequences of deforestation, including air pollution, drought, climate change and species extinction …  and when wildlife trafficking claims animal lives, human lives are lost too when profits fund drug and other criminal enterprises.  We know that in saving wildlife, their habitats and our oceans, we will ultimately save ourselves.   So important, so important is our care for the environment that Pope Francis considers it an act of mercy, on par with caring for the hungry and the homeless.  Indeed, all religions are united in their creed, if not their practice, that we show compassion to animals.  The World Health Organization considers biodiversity and ecosystems to be central pillars of all life on the planet, including human life, and the United Nations considers the protection of biodiversity to be a human rights issue, critical to a wide range of human rights, including rights to food, housing, health, and even water.  The more than 15,300 scientists from 184 countries who signed a global article letter entitled “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity,” warning of the dire consequences to humanity of climate change, deforestation, and widespread species extinction — they will tell you, that laws matter.  

Just laws protect both humans and animals, but ultimately, shouldn’t laws protect animals as intelligent, sentient beings in their own right?   As Marc Bekoff said, “…  animals are not mere resources for human consumption. They are splendid beings in their own right.”  Indeed, all animals are worthy of compassion and mercy.  All animals deserve to be treated justly under the law.  All animals are worthy of legal systems that respect them as unique beings, and all animals are worthy of rights, freedoms and protections, not because of any purported commercial value, but because they are splendid beings, each with value and worth in their own right, and each a glorious creation with personality and emotional traits formed from his or her own life experiences, and each deserving of as much respect and legal protection as I have to stand here and speak on their behalf.  

On behalf of myself and my colleagues at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, we are so deeply honored to have sponsored this year’s Summer School on the urgent issue of animals ethics and the law, and we applaud your unwavering dedication and commitment to this cause, and to everyone who committed their time, energy and resources, and who traveled to be here from all over the globe, know this:  Spring is coming for animals.  Your participation and hard work at this conference will provide a powerful momentum to improve laws, and may our work at this conference, indeed, help usher in a golden age of legal protection for animals. 

© 2018 Kimberly C. Moore. All Rights Reserved.

Kimberly Moore is the Director of Public Relations for Fur Free Society, Inc. and an expert on laws governing the treatment and welfare of animals. Kimberly has represented and worked with organizations, including rescue groups, animal sanctuaries and other organizations, on strategic, organizational and fundraising matters. Kimberly Moore is a senior tax attorney at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP in Washington, D.C.