Thinking About Elephants

Bruce Wagman

I have been thinking about elephants.  The recent disappointing judgment in the hard-fought Ringling Brothers case is really only one reason.  I’ve been involved in a few nonlitigation matters trying to help make life better for elephants in zoos in different states, have visited the elephants at PAWS in California, and have spent many hours watching the amazing interactions and overwhelming magic of hundreds of elephants in several Tanzanian parks.  There are many elephant experiences that stand out in my mind, including on the one hand one long heating-up morning when we spent about two hours watching about 220 elephants of all ages and sizes (as best as we could count) in one spot in Tarangire National Park, and on the other being shocked into outrage when I learned about the crushing pain they suffer by virtue of almost every confinement situation in America, the literal disintegration of their foot bones as they are forced to stand on them, in some of the worst pain one could imagine, without any relief.  When it comes to elephants in zoos and circuses, the news is grim. 

I had to learn the science of elephants for my job, and that requirement is one of the fantastic things about practicing animal law, especially for someone like me.  That is, in order to do a good job, I am compelled to learn not just the law, but often the biology, physiology, psychology and behaviors of whatever species is at the center of the case I am litigating.  For me that is turning work into fun or at least intellectual exploration, which is fun for a law geek like me.  Because there are “cat people” and “dog people” and “chimp people;” and when on safari in Africa some people mainly want to see the big cats; others the birds.  There is an inherent speciesism, just like when we pet a cat and eat a cow, or think it is bad to eat dog because we do not do it, but it is okay to eat a pig because we do.  But I’m a garbage-can animal lover, meaning I love them all.  So when I am in Africa, ask me what I want to see, and I don’t care, as long as it’s wild.  People say warthogs are ugly and I think they are beautiful, perfect.  And when I am home ask if I prefer my dogs or cats, and my response is: “anything nonhuman will do, I love them all.”  So the requirement that I learn about some species or other is just a joy, and something I have done literally dozens of times over the course of my career.  And you really cannot adequately litigate for animals if you don’t understand them – as well as the law.  Continue reading

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