The mistreatment of animals at the hand of humans is hot topic. Recent national polls show that more than half of Americans support stronger laws to protect animals, and that a third want some form of animal rights. These numbers are a reflection of the attention the national press has given the plight of both captive animals (like elephants, whales and apes) and many wild, yet endangered, species.
As Professor Martha C. Nusbaum states: “Our world is at a crossroads. A new ethical consciousness is arising, gradually supplanting many centuries of obtuseness. No longer is it simply taken for granted that non-human animals are mere objects or property, to be used as humans please. Increasingly people feel ethical concern, not only for domesticated animals, but also for animals in the wild.”
Unfortunately, the law regarding animal rights, however, remains painfully static. As such, Friends of Animals established the Wildlife Law Program to fill a niche between animal rights and environmental activism.
Environmental activists often utilize these laws but do so to achieve broad environmental objectives that may not always protect the rights of free-living animals. The mission of the Wildlife Law Program is to utilize the law for a singular purpose: to ensure the right of all wildlife to live in an ecosystem free from human manipulation, exploitation, or abuse.
Our approach is to fight for a legal system in which governmental and corporate decision-makers are obligated to fully examine how human actions may degrade the types of lives animals are trying to lead. Such a right is not based solely on our compassion or empathy for an animal, but on moral and scientific principles that we can justify by argument. Our decision-making processes must embrace our ever-expanding knowledge of how human involvement or interference with an animal diminishes one or more of that animal’s basic capabilities. In other words, the reason to focus on the ethical treatment of animals is because of them, not because of us.
We have come to call this a “right of ethical consideration for all non-human animals.” This is not necessarily the immediate granting of specific substantive rights for animals, like the right to life, freedom, etc. It is, however, a pathway to strengthening legal protections for animals and future substantive, but appropriate, rights. By requiring decision-makers and the public to engage in active deliberation about the human impact on an animal’s ability to live a meaningful life, societal and legal beliefs regarding the rights of non-human animals can more quickly change for the better.