The Farm Animal’s Best Friend
MR. SAM LITZINGER
Welcome back to "The Animal House." I'm Sam Litzinger. Since 2007, dozens of lawyers, law students, sociologists, psychologists, political scientists and computer modelers have been preparing the first cases that will seek to have courts declare that at least some non-human animals have the capacity to possess legal rights. One of the men behind what's known as the Nonhuman Rights Project is Steven Wise, an author, legal scholar, and President of the Center for the Expansion of Fundamental Rights. He joins us via phone from Coral Springs, Florida. Steven, glad to have you with us in "The Animal House."
MR. STEVEN WISE
Thank you for having me on.
Now, animals have -- correct me if I'm wrong, some legal protections now, for example, the Endangered Species Act and anti-cruelty laws. What would granting them rights do in the great scheme of things?
Well, if they have rights, they will have greater protections and potentially protections that they themselves can enforce, because one of the rights that we would like them to have would be the so-called power right to file a lawsuit. One way you might imagine the difference between being protected and having rights would be if you imagined that you did not have any rights, and the only protections you had was that there was a statute that said no one's allowed to be cruel to you, and if they are, then they can be convicted of a crime. You would not feel that you were protected, and that's the problem.
Do you know of precedence for giving animals certain rights, because as you well know, the Supreme Court tends to rely on precedence whenever possible, so if you brought this to the Supreme Court, could you cite something that would maybe support your position here?
Well, we aren't planning on ever bringing any -- or at least not in the next 30 years, bringing any suit like this in any federal court at all. The Nonhuman Rights Project, which by the way has been working on this now since 2007, so we're like -- we're in our fifth year, and we're going to be filing our first suits next year in 2013. We are planning on filing suits in a state under its common law because the common law is the law that everybody acknowledges that judges make and judges can alter it.
They can change it as experience tells them, as morality changes, as scientific discoveries accumulate, and they don't have to look at a statute or a constitutional amendment and try to imagine what the people who made the statute or who fashioned the constitutional amendment might have intended. So we're not going in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. We're going to be going in front of state Supreme Courts and again, not under a statute or under a constitutional amendment, but under the common law.
Do you have specific cases that you want to bring then, you're actually working on saying my client is whatever my client is, and here's how we're proceeding?
Absolutely. We've been looking at 40 or 50 different legal issues, and then we've been running them through all 50 states. We are going to file our first suits on behalf of non-human animals who have been the subject of the greatest investigation, whose cognitive abilities are most clearly established, who have cognitive abilities who are most clearly similar to ours who do not have a great economic value. So we're going to be talking about suing at least in the first two or three cases on behalf of an ape, on behalf of a cetacean like a dolphin or an orca, on behalf of an elephant, possibly on behalf of an African Gray parrot.
So these animals we think are the ones that will mostly likely carry us, bring us through the barrier that right now stands between all humans and all non-human animals. So first we want to demonstrate that a Supreme Court can legitimately hold that a non-human animal can be a legal person under that state's common law, and then we'll begin to litigate the issues of well, which animals can have which rights.
So you kind of have to -- you establish the precedent and then work from there?
That's exactly what we're planning on doing.
Would this preclude us from killing and eating any animals?
Well, if a non-human animal has one of what we argue are the fundamental rights to bodily integrity and have the so-called power right to enforce it, we'd be able to do that. We aren't planning on bringing suit on behalf of any non-human animal that anyone eats now.
But once the precedent is established, then presumably couldn't it just continue on down the line as long as somebody wants to get involved and take on the legal duties?
Yes. And then that's the beauty of the common law. The common law allows judges to deal with the problem one piece at a time and they'll have to do that across all 50 states, so there's going to be an accreting jurisprudence and it's very hard to know where it's going to end.
No matter what happens, you would like us, I'm assuming, to look at animals differently.
Well, they need to be looked at as legal persons. They need to be looked at as the holders of real legal rights.
Steven Wise is a legal scholar and director of the Nonhuman Rights Project. Thank you very much for being with us in "The Animal House."
Oh, you're very welcome.
At various places throughout the southern hemisphere, thousands of animal species are preparing to begin their seasonal migration in search of hospitable climates. Meanwhile, nearly one million students at various sites across the northern hemisphere are making preparations to study the movements of these animals as part of Journey North.
It's a global study of wildlife migration and seasonal change sponsored by Annenberg Learner. Here to talk to us about it works and how you or your child might take part is Elizabeth Howard, Journey North's program manager. Elizabeth speaks to us from Vermont Public Radio. We're glad to have you with us in "The Animal House."
MS. ELIZABETH HOWARD
Thanks so much.
What typically does a student do?
Well, we actually start up in the fall, and so they -- let's just use the Monarch Butterfly as an example because it's my favorite and one of the most amazing. They will often raise a butterfly and release it, and then it goes all the way down to Mexico. And essentially, because people to the south are reporting the sightings, they're able to virtually travel with the butterfly that they may have raised.
And then when the butterflies are in Mexico, we linked up with all the schools that are right around the Monarchs' of a wintering area in Mexico, so they're learning the geography and language, and all about, you know, the biology of the Monarch as it stays alive all winter long with no food, just basically sitting in this cold refrigerated climate in northern -- up in the mountains on Mexico.
Scientists are just thrilled to have the help of citizen scientists and in making observations of nature, and it's really revolutionized the study of nature, because these events that are taking place across our hemisphere are sometimes very ephemeral and very hard to study, and so here you have just this expanding the eyes and ears of scientists so beautifully.
And finally, I'm suspecting we've piqued some interest. How would somebody get involved directly with the Journey North Project?
Oh, we'd love to have more participation always, and go to the Internet and type in Journey North and we'll come right up on the Web, and we would just really appreciate the eyes and ears of your listeners.
Elizabeth Howard is program manager of Annenberg Learner's Journey North Wildlife Study Program. Thank you very much for being with us in "The Animal House."
Thanks very much for having me.
MS. SANDRA TSING-LOH
Maybe he only speaks whale. This is Sandra Tsing-Loh with the Loh Down on Science quoting Dory from "Finding Nemo." "Silly Dory, only whales speak whale," or maybe not. Researchers studied five performing Bottle-Nosed Dolphins at France's Planète Sauvage Dolphinarium. During the day, the dolphins frolic to a soundtrack of music, dolphin whistles, seagull calls and Humpback Whale sounds. The dolphins whistle and click as they play.
MS. SANDRA TSING-LOH
Previously, no one has known whether dolphins vocalize when at rest, so the researchers placed underwater microphones in the dolphins tank for a week to record their vocalizations day and night. In listening, the team discovered something surprising. At night the dolphins made noises they never made during day, they mimicked whales. Spectrograms show that the dolphin sounds, and real Humpback Whale sounds were very similar.
MS. SANDRA TSING-LOH
So similar in fact that human test subjects couldn't tell them apart. Why the dolphins don't mimic whales during daytime is mysterious, making the team think maybe the dolphins are doing it in their sleep. You might say they aren't doing it on porpoise, or not.
The Loh Down on Science online at lohdown.org. Produced by 89.3 KPCC and the California Institute of Technology, and made possible by TIAA CREF.
Dr. Gary Weitzman is waiting in the wings with answers to questions about pets and wildlife in "The Animal House."
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