Month: April 2014

Lawyer Steven Wise argues “Animals are Persons Too”

Lawyer Steven Wise is a major player in the growing field of animal rights law. According to The New York Times, he greatly influenced the development of animal rights law as an area of study in the 1980s and became the first person to lecture on the subject at Harvard Law School in 2000.

In an Introduction to Law and Politics class I took this past fall, I learned about the rise of animal rights law and the difficulties animal rights groups faced when filing lawsuits, because they had to be filed on behalf of human plaintiffs who suffered by witnessing the mistreatment of animals. But Wise thinks that animals should be treated as people, not things — meaning that lawsuits could be filed on their behalf instead.

An Op-Doc (defined as a “short, opinionated documentary”) called “Animals are Persons Too” follows Wise on his journey to obtain “personhood” rights for highly intelligent animals, including chimpanzees, elephants, whales and dolphins. Wise, who has dedicated 30 years to formulating his groundbreaking strategy, is in the process of filing lawsuits on behalf of four NY chimpanzees (Tommy, Kiko, Hercules and Leo) — something that has never been done in the U.S. He is assisted by a team of animal law experts, called the Nonhuman Rights Project (Nh.R.P.).

Wise was also featured in The New York Times Magazine on Sunday. The piece describes how Wise first encountered Tommy, who was living in a dungeon-like cage in a trailer after his original owner, David Sabo, had died. The piece quotes the legal memo drafted by Wise and his team, providing an account of the poor conditions in which Tommy was kept:

“Like humans, chimpanzees have a concept of their personal past and future . . . they suffer the pain of not being able to fulfill their needs or move around as they wish; [and] they suffer the pain of anticipating never-ending confinement.”

What Tommy could never have anticipated, of course, huddled just up the road that morning in his dark, dank cell, was that he was about to make legal history: The first nonhuman primate to ever sue a human captor in an attempt to gain his own freedom.

The article also outlines Nh.R.P’s future endeavors, which include plans to file lawsuits on behalf of bonobos, orangutans, gorillas, dolphins, orcas, belugas, elephants and African gray parrots.




Central Park’s horse-drawn carriages: should they stay or should they go?

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposed ban on horse-drawn carriages in New York’s Central Park, which would entail replacing the carriages with electric cars, or “E-carriages,” has sparked debate, with advocates on both sides fighting fervently to further their cause. Supporters of the ban express concerns about animal welfare, while opponents argue that the horses are well cared for and maintain that dismantling the industry is unnecessary.

What people are saying:

Earlier this month, actor and New York City resident Liam Neeson wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times in support of the carriages:

“Horses and their caretakers work together to earn a decent livelihood in New York, as they have for hundreds of years. New York’s horse-carriage trade is a humane industry that is well regulated by New York City’s Departments of Health and Mental Hygiene and Consumer Affairs. Harry W. Werner, a past president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, has visited the stables and ‘found no evidence whatsoever of inhumane conditions, neglect or cruelty in any aspect.'”

This issue has been featured as the cover story in The New Yorker, with artwork depicting a carriage filled with horses being pulled by the driver. Artist Bruce McCall says:

“I’m on the side of the defenseless animals, but the other point about horses for me is that they clog traffic. I drive a lot in New York, and getting behind one of those carriages is a roadblock. They commandeer the road; they’re turning onto Seventh Avenue or Eighth Avenue to go to or from the stables, and all traffic has to stop for them. They always take precedence, and that seems weird. A nineteenth-century traffic jam in this day and age seems silly.”

Helen Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) supports the ban:

“It’s an animal rights issue for me. I think that in this day and age, and given other options, we don’t need to continue the practice.”

Meanwhile, Rory Lancman (D-Queens) does not:

“The horses get better health care and more vacation days than most New Yorkers, 300 drivers get to support their families with good middle-class jobs, and tourists have yet another reason to visit and spend money in the city.”

Major players:

Supporters of the ban include animal rights group NYCLASS, Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

Opponents include Historic Horse-Drawn Carriages of Central Park, Horse and Carriage Association of New York City, and the Teamsters union, which represents carriage drivers.

Latest developments:

Last Thursday, animal rights activists protested following an incident near the Plaza Hotel, where, according to an Oklahoma tourist, a horse named Spartacus was startled by a bus, fell on the sidewalk, and was pinned down by his carriage.


Yesterday, a Manhattan Supreme Court judge ruled that the NYPD must release records regarding horse carriage incidents, which were requested under the Freedom of Information Act by the Animal Legal Defense Fund.



Now trending: #EarthDay, #EndangeredSong

Happy Earth Day, everyone! In honor of the occasion, The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and National Zoo has launched its Endangered Song Project.

Today, only 400 Sumatran tigers remain in the wild. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has placed the species on a “critically endangered” list. The tigers are protected by Indonesian laws, which include provisions for jail time and fines. But, according to World Wildlife Fund, “despite increased efforts in tiger conservation—including law enforcement and antipoaching capacity—a substantial market remains in Sumatra and the rest of Asia for tiger parts and products. Sumatran tigers are losing their habitat and prey fast, and poaching shows no sign of decline.”

Smithsonian is partnering with Portugal. The Man, an indie rock band from Alaska, in a campaign to help protect this species from extinction.

According to WUSA9, 400 custom polycarbonate records have been made to release the song “Sumatran Tiger.” These 400 copies, which represent the 400 tigers, will only last for a number of plays — they need to be digitized and shared on social media with #EndangeredSong, or else the song will go extinct. Who’s getting these copies? Music artists, bloggers, wildlife conservationists, etc. And the digital versions have already begun to appear:



Here’s what you can do:

1. Search for digital uploads on SoundCloud, Myspace, Bandcamp, reddit, and YouTube.

2. Donate.


3. Check out this video to learn more, and start sharing!

Animal researchers call for privacy measures

Animal researchers at public universities across Florida, including the University of Florida, University of Central Florida, Florida International University and the University of South Florida, are pushing for a bill that will protect their personal information from animal rights activists. According to The Independent Florida Alligator, the bill aims at protecting researchers from harm and harassment.

The Eleventh Hour for Animals, a group dedicated to “exposing the taxpayer-funded animal torture industry inside the University of Florida,” has published phone numbers, home addresses and pictures of UF animal researchers on its website.

Because UF is a public university, information about the animal researchers and the facilities they conduct their research in is public record. In Marino v. University of Florida, in the District Court of Appeal of Florida, the judge held that UF had to provide records to Camille A. Marino, Eleventh Hour for Animals founder and executive director. Marino had requested records on 33 primates in captivity, and the University had refrained from providing all of the records, citing exemptions under Florida Statutes.

If the bill currently moving through the House of Representatives is approved, the personal identification of researchers would be exempt in animal records on treatment and care, research protocols and approvals, purchase/billing records and facility and lab records.

Search continues for dognapped pitbull

In December, a young, malnourished pit bull named Ginja was brought to Buffalo Animal Shelter after police broke up a nearby dogfighting ring. According to The Buffalo News, Ginja’s owner, Shannon Richardson, was charged with six violations of the New York Agriculture and Markets Law, which outlines minimum standards of animal care.

A month later, Ginja was reported missing. Initially, $2,000 was raised through the fundraising efforts of local animal rights activists. Recently, a New York City animal rescue group called Guardians of Rescue has contributed $5,000 to the reward fund.

Animal Rights attorney Matt Albert and a group of advocates going by the name of “Ginja’s Gang” are working alongside Guardians of Rescue to bring Ginja home safely. They hope that the financial incentive will encourage those with connections to the dogfighting ring to step forward and provide information about Ginja’s abduction and current whereabouts, as she most likely continues to fight for her life.