Should there be a distinction between wild and non-wild animals in wildlife law?

Wandesforde-Smith, G. & Hart, L. (2015) Exploring the Borderlands Between Wild and Non-Wild Animals: Wildlife Law and Policy in Transition. Journal of International Wildlife Law & Policy, 18(4), 269–275.

In this review the traditional distinctions between wild and non-wild animals are discussed, and questions are raised as to whether differences in wildlife policy and law between these categories are justifiable on a moral or scientific basis.

Here, the authors take a look at the history of animal welfare and discuss why, in today’s society, distinguishing animals as wild or non-wild is arbitrary and unhelpful. All around the world - from Britain to China, America and Australia - we can see from history that human perception of wild and non-wild animals was once very different. The terms ‘wild’ and ‘non-wild’ were perhaps once meaningful in relation to animals, however, in today’s society, science has progressed to the point where there is no moral basis for treating animals differently using the wild/non-wild distinction. Indeed, all animals are now managed to some extent by humans to the point where there is less of a black and white difference between wild/non-wild animals, and instead more of a wide-ranging spectrum.

Blurred distinctions between animals living in the wild and ‘wild animals’

Many examples of these blurred distinctions of wild or non-wild animals were illustrated; for example, in Australia why are native and non-native treated different, considering in one way or another both can be classed as ‘living in the wild’ and as pests? Why are Californian elks treated like wild animals, but not classed as wild animals? Additionally, would the management and conservation efforts of these animals alter depending on whether they were classed as wild or non-wild species? And more crucially, should the management and conservation efforts alter on this basis?

The authors conclude that, whilst it is important to treat animals according to their level of domestication, there is no real distinction between wild and non-wild animals and as such all animals should have the same moral status in policy and law.

World Animal Protection’s view

World Animal Protection believes that all animals have the right to a good life, and they should be protected according to the five freedoms of animal welfare whenever human actions have an impact on their existence. Wild animals should not be considered or treated any differently to non-wild animals in this regard.