What is Animal Law?
Animal law includes all facets of the law and policy including but not limited to legislative, judicial and executive that relate to, consider and interact with the interests and issues of non-human animals or the interests of humans with respect to animals. It is extremely broad, and there is no universal definition, but what is important is that it considers the interests of the animals themselves.
It is an extremely exciting field that is growing all around the world and overlaps with various other areas of law. Some of these include constitutional law, commercial law, law of delict, property law, criminal law, environmental law, international law, family law, administrative law, wills and estates, and the list goes on!
It encompasses issues relating to companion animals, wild animals, animals used in entertainment, animals used in scientific research, farmed animals, aquatic animals – and all other animals.
It also interacts with other subject areas – such as science, politics, humanities – and others…
We believe that all animals have intrinsic worth and deserve to be protected.
Legally, animals are considered as property. Because of this status and the economic and other vested interests that humans have in animals, this has led to wide scale abuse.
In addition to the abuse and cruelty suffered at the hands of humans, animals face a multitude of other threats including habitat loss, climate change, invasive species, poaching, trafficking and extinction.
Why Not People?
We recognise that animal suffering and exploitation does not only affect animals, but affects people too. Animal issues are fundamentally linked with human issues.
Animal Law Reform South Africa was founded on the principle that justice is enhanced where legal protection is available to all sentient beings. Its founding value is that human rights are enriched – not impoverished – by including animals in the notion of justice.
Some examples of how animal issues affect people:
In many instances, where there is violence at home involving humans, there is violence towards the companion animals too. Sometimes the abuse starts with the animals and moves to humans, or often, abusers may threaten, harm or even kill animals to exert dominance over their victims. In some cases, those abused will not leave a violent situation unless they can take their animals, and end up staying in harmful situations. There are other links between domestic abuse and violence towards animals – this is often referred to in the movement as “the link”.
Wildlife crimes can affect ecosystems and the environment and disrupt biodiversity. They also threaten national security and are often linked to other crimes (such as illegal weapons, other forms of trafficking and terrorism). Conflicts between rangers and poachers have resulted in many deaths in South Africa. Wildlife crimes can have an impact on the tourism of country – which affects not only those in the industry, but international relationships, local communities and the population as a whole.
Animal agriculture has a major impact on the environment (including the plants, water, air and soil surrounding farming operations), but has an impact on human health too. Zoonotic diseases can be spread from animals to humans and vice versa. Additionally, farmed animals are often given antibiotics due to the conditions in which they live and are raised – this means humans can ingest these antibiotics and potentially become drug resistant. Farm and slaughterhouse workers often receive less protection than workers in other industries and also suffer psychological issues from the work they are required to perform.
There are MANY other ways in which our treatment and use of nonhuman animals can impact people. We as humans have a complex relationship with our fellow nonhuman animals. Some animals receive more protection than others, but all animals matter and have intrinsic worth. Some we share our homes with and consider as family, others we classify as “pests” and “damage causing”. Regardless of this, the law is meant to protect all members of society and particularly the weak and vulnerable. It is therefore important that law and policy reflects societal views as well as the changing needs of society.
The animal protection movement in South Africa consists of activists and no legal organisation exists in the country dedicated to the protection of animals. Animal Law Reform South Africa fills this gap.
By utilising the law, we have a unique opportunity to affect animals on a mass-scale. A small change to a law can have a major impact for animals and it is therefore an extremely useful tool for animal protection.
There is a ripe moment in South Africa’s increasingly sophisticated democracy for the creation of a legal organisation, which focuses on animal law and the intersection between animal wellbeing, human rights and social justice.
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