Non-Human persons


For a while now the people trying to protect dolphins from their brutal slaughter in Japan have argued that dolphins with their very high intelligence, close family bonds, sophisticated communication, should have a right to be protected (as “non human persons”) in the same way humans are from slaughter and exploitation. Similar claims have been made to try to get captive whales out of amusement parks. And the same claims could of course be made for the whales being hunted and killed year after year in our southern seas by the Japanese, and in the Arctic by Norwegians and Icelanders.

Obviously the right thing to do, to add to the calls for the great apes (Chimpanzees, Orang-utans, Gorillas) to be given similar status for the same reason. The heart-breaking stories of habitat destruction, and of mothers cradling dead babies, babies calling for mothers, in all these cases should be enough to stop the hunting of these animals, their incarceration in zoo cages or small pools, and their use in medical experiments. We must surely be civilised enough to recognise this now.

But I would be inclined to look even more widely. I think we could consider extending similar status to a number of species that are among the most intelligent and social of their kind. I am thinking for example of dogs and cats, bears and pigs, fruit bats. Of birds like crows and magpies and the larger parrots. Perhaps of live-bearing reptiles and fish. And even of some invertebrates like octopus and the larger spiders.

In British culture we long ago gave up brutal use of animals for entertainment in bear and bull-baiting, dog and cock-fighting, although all of these continue today in countries like Spain and even in America. It took a long time to bring them to an end in England, but it’s hard to imagine anyone arguing for a return to them now. In parts of the world too other intelligent animals are tortured to extract bile for phony medicines, skinned, slaughtered for cheap food, have their habitats destroyed for palm oil plantations, killed with poison baits, nesting trees knocked down. It will take time to get across the idea that many animal species are so intelligent and aware that we should stop all ill-treatment of them too in other countries, but we could make a start in our own.

One day our great-grandchildren will look back and say “People used to do WHAT to dolphins and chimpanzees?”