The relationship between humans and other animals is at critical moment in our history. 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. International and national media outlets are highlighting the plight of both captive animals (like elephants, whales and apes) and many wild, yet endangered, species.
The way scientists and educational institutions view animals is also changing and providing increasing evidence to support what some cultures have known for centuries — animals live complex and meaningful lives deserving of respect. Moreover, it cannot be disputed that the exploitation of animals, including encroaching on and destroying their habitat, puts the health of our planet and everyone on it at risk. There is a growing recognition that the commodification and exploitation of animals must end.
Unfortunately, the laws regarding animal rights remains painfully static. Animals are often discussed as a commodity or mere biological unit. The complex lives and relationships between individual animals and the broader environment are too often ignored in the legal system. As such, Friends of Animals established the Wildlife Law Program to fill a niche between animal rights and environmental activism. 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. This obligation 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, we cannot ignore how corporations and institutions are impacting the lives of animals.
The right of all animals to live a meaningful life free from human exploitation guides our work. This includes consideration of each animals’ unique capabilities, as well as their social and biological health. This is not necessarily the immediate granting of specific substantive rights for animals. 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.