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Law: Animal Law

The Animal Law Research Guide provides guidance for students researching animal law and advocacy, as well as the discussion of animals in the fields of philosophy, cultural studies, gender and women's studies, environmental studies, and literary theory.

Animal law is a broad topic that may encompass the relationship between animals and justice through various lenses, including what justice for animals demands of us, legally, politically, and culturally; and how the animal rights movement intersects with movements for human social justice. This libguide provides an overview of key topics in animal law, including books, cases, legislation, journals, suggested readings and blogs. Whether you are a student, researcher, or simply interested in understanding the legal framework surrounding animals, this guide will help you explore this fascinating field.

Historical Perspective: Evolution of Animal Protection Laws

The evolution of animal protection laws can be traced back to ancient civilisations, with significant developments occurring over centuries. The journey from treating animals solely as property to recognising their rights and welfare has been influenced by cultural, philosophical, and ethical changes.

  • Ancient Civilisations (Pre-1000 BCE): In the earliest human societies, animals were primarily seen as property or resources for hunting, food, and labor. There were no formal protections for their welfare.

  • Religious and Philosophical Influences (1st Millennium BCE - 17th Century CE): Religious texts and philosophical traditions, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and some strains of Greek philosophy, began to emphasise the importance of compassion and kindness towards animals. These ideas laid the foundation for early animal welfare principles.

  • Medieval Europe (Middle Ages): The medieval period saw the emergence of some laws protecting specific animals, often related to the ownership and care of livestock. These laws were driven by economic interests rather than animal welfare concerns.

  • 18th Century Enlightenment: The Age of Enlightenment brought about significant changes in attitudes toward animals. Thinkers like Jeremy Bentham argued that animals should be considered sentient beings with the capacity to suffer, leading to calls for legal reforms.

  • Early Legislation (19th Century): The 19th century witnessed the first animal protection laws. Notably, the United Kingdom's "Martin's Act" of 1822 was one of the earliest laws aimed at preventing cruelty to cattle and horses. This marked a shift towards recognizing animals as beings deserving of legal protection.

  • SPCA and Animal Welfare Societies (19th Century): The formation of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in 1824 in England and similar organisations in other countries marked the beginning of organised efforts to protect animals from cruelty. These organisations played a pivotal role in advocating for legal changes.

  • The Humane Movement (19th - Early 20th Century): The humane movement gained momentum in the 19th and early 20th centuries, leading to the passage of various anti-cruelty laws in Europe and North America. These laws primarily focused on preventing cruelty to domestic animals.

  • Animal Welfare Acts (20th Century): The 20th century saw the development of comprehensive animal welfare legislation, including the U.S. Animal Welfare Act of 1966, which regulates the treatment of animals used in research and exhibition. Other countries followed suit with similar laws.

  • Environmental and Wildlife Conservation Laws: Conservation laws emerged in response to concerns about endangered species and habitat destruction. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was established in 1975 to regulate international trade in endangered species.

  • Contemporary Animal Rights Movements (Late 20th Century - Present): The late 20th century saw the rise of the animal rights movement, advocating for legal recognition of animals' intrinsic value and rights. This movement has influenced legislation related to issues such as animal testing, factory farming, and exotic pet ownership.

  • Ongoing Developments: Today, animal protection laws continue to evolve, reflecting changing societal attitudes and ethical considerations. Issues like animal sentience, animal rights, and emerging technologies (e.g., cloning and genetic engineering) pose new challenges and opportunities for legal frameworks.


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