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The Criminal Prosecution of Animals | Wildlife Matters

The Criminal Prosecution of Animals

shark cull

You know what really grinds my gears?

How we always seem to anthropomorphise predatory species such as tigers and sharks. In doing so, we ignorantly force our own criminal justice system upon those species which are and should remain subject to the laws of natural instinct alone. What’s worse is that the punishments for these predatory species violating human criminal laws are far worse than that of those given to humans violating their own criminal laws. It is noted that the last animal (criminal) trials took place in the eighteenth century – yes this actually happened for around 800 years across Europe – even insects faced criminal charges! Anyway, it is clear to me that the criminal prosecution of animals does in fact still exist today, just unofficially and under an alternative name – culls.

For instance, when a shark kills or even attacks a human, a widespread cull is often the sentencing. So not only are the governments implementing capital punishment on animals but they are also ordering for all the sharks of that species in the area to be exterminated. Paradoxically, in the countries that order these sentences upon the sharks, capital punishment is in fact illegal but for some unknown reason this only seems to apply to humans. Australia is perhaps the most well-known country for shark culls but I can reassure you that this a global persecution. Here’s an example; a shark cull took place in Hawaii between 1959 and 1976, during which 4,668 sharks were shot. During this time, the number of shark attacks remained constant and despite this, tourism was on the rise due to misleading reassurances of safety which was of course at sharks’ expense.

It is an incredibly ignorant belief to suggest that when a tiger for example kills a person, then justice must be served. This is a dangerous ideology that runs through much of India and indeed many other states privileged enough to still have tiger populations. Firstly, how can we talk of justice when humans have persecuted tigers to such an extent that they have lost 93% of their historical range and three subspecies have been hunted to extinction. No justice is being served on our part for these inexcusable crimes against nature.

Secondly, when a tiger is criminalised, biology and genetics in particular are also being criminalised, because with the exception of humans and a few other species, animals are not capable of altruistic behaviour; that is to express concern for others perhaps at the expense of their own wellbeing. These apparently ‘selfish’ characteristics are expressed at the genetic level and this is the reason why nature has been able to evolve and survive to the scale and diversity you see today. Only those species that have developed highly advanced brains are able to override the selfish genes that have been hardwired into all living things from the beginning of life itself. Therefore, the prosecution of animals are barbaric acts of irrational stupidity that brings into question our own altruistic capabilities.

Lastly, this ideology of serving justice to ‘man-eating’ predators is extremely dangerous because for many, this will ‘legitimately’ justify the persecution of these species. Poachers will be able to claim that rather than hunting for illegal purposes, they are hunting so-called man-eaters for the common good when in fact they are hunting for sport or skins, fins, bones etc. The knock-on effects of this false justification is that when an individual is suspected of an attack, not only will that individual be targeted but potentially all the individuals of that species in the area. If enough fear is present in a community, it is possible for whole species to be hunted to extinction in order to mitigate that fear. With the extinction of species comes significant ecological changes of which I have discussed in previous articles.

It is absolutely wrong to attempt to anthropomorphise animals because they are fundamentally different to us from the genetic level upward. The only exception to this rule is when one is trying to explain scientific findings; then, being able to personify the subjects may allow for easier understanding. If the persecution of predatory species continues, then I hold out little hope for their future and the ecosystems to which they belong. I would also have to re-evaluate our own altruistic capabilities and whether in fact our selfish genes still prevail over altruism in humans.

– Jessen

2 thoughts on “The Criminal Prosecution of Animals

  1. Abraham Reeve

    Eloquently articulated and amply evidenced – it seems so severely unjust to impose human ideology on the natural world, and your article shows just how nonsensical it is.

    It does so with considerable simplicity, to show that we don’t have to look far to comprehensively counter this category of culling. Thank you for casting my eyes this way.

    One thought I would propose, is that in any dealing with human death, the legal system always seems to respond in some manner. Therefore (agreeing that this sort of cull is callous and disproportionate) in a realistic world, how would you suggest the legal system should respond ?

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