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Kimberly Moore

Fellow, Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics

Quotation Marks
In response to growing concerns about the treatment and protection of animals, a new field of law has emerged, known as animal law

Legal measures for the protection of animals

Legal measures for the protection of animals


Kimberly Moore, author of 'The Case for the Legal Protection of Animals, Humanity’s Shared Destiny with the Animal Kingdom', presents the case for the protection of animals with meaningful and substantive laws

While science tells us that animals are social and sentient creatures, the law doesn’t always take this into account. Despite some progress, animals remain inadequately protected, and they can suffer in entertainment, research, farming and conflicts.

A better-informed public is demanding greater legal protection for animals, and it turns out that what is good for animals is also good for us. In 2022, the United Nations adopted a resolution affirming that the health and welfare of animals is connected to the health and wellbeing of humans.

We must do better

Human activities drive crises like deforestation, pollution and climate change. Rooted in exploiting animals and the environment, these actions harm ecosystems and lead to resource scarcity. Marine plastic pollution and oil spills threaten all ocean life. Military exercises kill billions of sea animals; industrial fishing longlines have killed billions more (including many non-target species such as dolphins, whales and sea turtles). Animal-based food systems contribute to global hunger and water scarcity by depleting vital resources that could otherwise be used to address food insecurity. Animal farming fuels deforestation in order to make way for grazing land and feed crops for farmed animals, which increases the frequency of destructive weather events, exacerbates food and water shortages, and results in species extinction. Our destruction of the natural world also has profound implications for national security; scarce resources, including food and water, are expected to lead to a growing number of wars and conflicts.

These global crises have cascading, detrimental effects on ecosystems and on human societies, but for the most part they are unchallenged by legal restraint and, as a result, are accelerating. Outdated laws that fail to protect the planet’s rich biodiversity and natural spaces are having catastrophic consequences for humanity, but it doesn’t have to be this way. To protect our shared destinies, we must accept that the rights of humans are inextricably linked to how we treat the natural world. Protecting animals with meaningful and substantive laws, and ensuring that such laws are enforced, is critically important to both people and animals.

Animal law

In response to growing concerns about the treatment and protection of animals, a new field of law has emerged, known as animal law. This specialised area of legal practice focuses on advocating for the rights and welfare of animals, addressing issues ranging from cruelty and exploitation to conservation and habitat preservation. As the field continues to evolve, it plays a crucial role in shaping legislation, influencing public policy and fostering a more compassionate and ethical relationship between humans and animals.

Many jurisdictions have enacted laws prohibiting acts of animal cruelty, neglect and abuse, with penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment. Legislation sets minimum standards for the care and treatment of animals in various contexts, including farming, research, entertainment and transportation. And legal measures aim to conserve and protect wildlife habitats, regulate hunting and trapping activities, and combat illegal wildlife trafficking. This means there is a widely held view that animals are adequately protected under existing laws. This is not the case.


The key principles guiding animal law should include recognising animals as sentient beings with inherent value and rights, promoting humane treatment and welfare standards, and holding individuals and entities accountable for acts of cruelty and exploitation.

Developing robust legal frameworks for the protection of animals will require that we recognise an animal’s right to live free from exploitation and harm. It will also require sober reflection on our own actions that contribute to animal suffering and how our mistreatment of animals jeopardises our shared destinies. Implementing stronger and more coordinated legal measures to protect the natural world will help to safeguard vital ecosystems for both human communities and for animal life. When viewed through the prism of an interconnected world, fundamental human rights are inextricably linked to the rights of animals.

Despite the compelling grounds for legal reform, there are formidable challenges to change. The convergence of cultural norms and traditions, influential industries and political corruption all pose challenges to enacting laws that adequately protect animals. Still, there are grounds for optimism. The past two decades have been a watershed moment for the legal status of animals and new laws are starting to take hold in many countries.