Interview with Animal Law Reform South Africa

August 20, 2021Zihao Yu, Lu Shegay, Amy P. Wilson

Please welcome Amy P. Wilson, the Co-founder and Director of the Animal Law Reform South Africa!


Animal Law Reform South Africa (ALRSA) is the first dedicated animal law non-profit organization in South Africa, made up of a team of legal professionals, dedicated to the protection of animals, humans, and the environment. ALRSA’s three main pillars are Animal Well-being, Law, and Social Justice. ALRSA was the first organization from the African continent that joined the Alliance for Animal Law of Asia, an international campaign initiated by the Institute of Animal Law of Asia. Through this interview, we would like to introduce our member to the public and our audience. We are excited to learn more about Animal Law Reform South Africa (ALRSA)!

"Black and White Penguins on Brown Sand" by Taryn Elliott from Pexels

Part I: Introduction

IALA: Amy, could you please tell us about your organization? As ALRSA works through three main pillars of Animal Well-being, Law, and Social Justice, can you tell us why you choose these three as the basis of your organization’s work?


Amy: We chose these pillars specifically because all of our Founders by profession, are lawyers, but as individuals, are deeply passionate about animal protection as well as human rights. We see the exploitation and oppression of nonhuman animals as an issue of social justice. We recognise the continuing legacy of apartheid, and its impact on both human and nonhuman animals in South Africa and we seek to actualise a just society by challenging the status quo and reforming the legal system. There are many challenges to the actualisation of legal rights for nonhuman animals in South Africa. In our view, animal rights, protection, and law require an intersectional approach to justice. One cannot simply focus on the protection of nonhuman animals while disregarding human issues. Since our board has significant experience in the areas of human rights and animal law as well as various legal realms (including constitutional, administrative, and environmental law), it was critical to us that this formed (and continues to form) the basis of all of our work.


IALA: What animal law issues does your organization address in South Africa and in general? What are the most challenging difficulties you have ever faced during your animal protection work?


Amy: At an organisational level, we utilise three core focus areas (i) Legislative & Policy Reform; (ii) Litigation and Legal Services; and (iii) Education & Research to advance our goal. We do not focus on particular species of animals and so our work is for all animals in the country. It, therefore, encompasses everyone from wild animals, to aquatic species, and to farmed animals. Similarly, we work across animal uses and abuses whether it is for animals used in scientific research, or animals used for entertainment. Therefore, as a small organisation, one of the greatest challenges that we face is determining exactly where to direct our energy and efforts at a given time when there are so many pressing animal law issues in South Africa.


Aside from this, we face a number of other challenges - some of these are the same or similar to the challenges faced by other non-profit organisations ranging from capacity, resources, and funding constraints to lack of awareness of issues. Due to the type of work we do, we are opposing powerful industries, a consumptive colonial legacy, a range of entrenched societal beliefs, and even livelihoods. So, our work is naturally met with a lot of hesitancy and even heavy opposition and requires sensitivity, research, and rumination.


It is extremely difficult to obtain legal changes for animals, due to not only the realities within the legal system itself but also in the context of great inequality and human rights considerations. Many people are also unaware that the rights of humans, animals, and the environment are fundamental and undeniably linked, which is a major challenge for us to consistently overcome.


IALA: What is ALRSA’s attitude towards “Big Game Hunting?” What are your goals and how to achieve them?


Amy: We oppose trophy hunting and are working towards a ban. This practice is inconsistent with African belief systems and is a colonial legacy that has no place in our country, nor in a society that respects the intrinsic value of individual animals. In addition, it has massive impacts on the environment (including ecosystems and biodiversity), and negatively affects the reputation of our country, which in turn impinges on our society. We have recently made a submission to the Government on this issue and have over the last few years made various submissions and proposals to the Government and worked with multiple organisations to have trophy hunting banned.


IALA: Since the hit of the pandemic in December 2019, everybody has had to shift to a “new normal” life, remote work, and online education. What challenges has your organization faced since then?


Amy: In terms of the pandemic, we are much luckier than many other organisations that work in this space. As a predominantly legal NGO, much of our work can be done remotely. While we have had some challenges due to the pandemic, we have largely been able to continue with our work online and have even hosted a few online international events and sessions which have in some instances, actually allowed us to reach a wider audience.


IALA: Do you have anything to share about the ALRSA’s plans that it intends to accomplish during 2021-2022?


Amy: We are delighted that we have just hired our first-ever Executive Director, Lara Wallis. Lara has a wealth of knowledge and experience in the human rights, social justice, and environmental sectors, and we have no doubt she will bring tremendous value to our organisation. We are excited to be developing our new strategic plans during this transition. For the next year, we plan to continue with a number of Projects that have been ongoing but one exciting piece of news is that in 2022, together with my co-founder and director, Professor David Bilchitz, we will be teaching the first-ever Animal Law Course in a South African University.

"Springbocks (Antidorcas marsupialis)" by berniedup is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Part II: South African Animal Law Issues

IALA: What do you think are the most important and pressing animal law issues that exist in South Africa?


Amy: It is difficult to say what the most pressing animal law issue is, as there are so many. As a general point, I will say that there is a lack of awareness of the devastating scale and impacts of our use and exploitation of animals - particularly in relation to farmed animals and aquatic species in the country. People tend to have more awareness around the harmful and abhorrent practices relating to the more charismatic megafauna (such as elephants, lions, leopards, and rhinos), but definitely lack understanding on these other issues.


If we are to achieve our goals in relation to animal protection, building a sustainable world, fighting climate change, achieving long-term food security, and tackling some of the injustices in our society - education on these issues will be absolutely critical, and, together with that, tangible legal reform.


IALA: In many countries, the regulations with regard to animals exist but lack enforcement. What is the situation in South Africa and how do you think animal protection can be improved?


Amy: The situation is similar in South Africa as enforcement is a major challenge. There are definitely some protective laws - both in terms of animal cruelty as well as environmental protection (including biodiversity and threatened/vulnerable species). As I mentioned, there are so many human issues that the authorities rarely have the will or capacity to effectively enforce animal-related issues. This means that animal legal enforcement, particularly for animal cruelty, is largely left up to the NSPCA (the National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), which is problematic for various reasons including their lack of resources. Thus, even where regulation does exist it is underenforced. Self-regulation of animal use industries is another major issue as is corruption.


IALA: What are the attitudes of the Government and the public towards legal protection of animals, animal law movements, animal welfarism, and animal rights activism in South Africa?


Amy: As I have alluded to, the Government appears to have its hands full with so many human and social-related issues. It does not seem to see animal protection and welfare as part of the holistic problems with our society - whether these be economic, environmental, political, social, or otherwise. There is very little support from the Government in these areas, and definitely not for animal rights. Rather, the Government largely promotes the use and exploitation of animals and sees these as a means to attain food security, transformation, economic growth, and a number of other objectives. One clear example is that it positions trophy hunting as a way to bring revenue into the country, without considering some of the more harmful impacts on our country’s reputation, the broader environment nor how these industries operate in practice. Another example in the farmed animal context is the Government’s recent “Master Poultry Plan,” which promotes a massive increase in the farming, use, and consumption of chickens and other animals, and which could have devastating long-term consequences.

"African Lion" by MSVG is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Part III: International Cooperation

IALA: What do you think are the common animal law issues that South Africa and Asian countries might have? Are there any animal law issues in the interaction between South Africa and Asian countries?


Amy: Like many Asian countries, South Africa is a developing country and desperately trying to achieve so many different (and even conflicting) aims for its increasing population. Similar to many Asian countries, we have a number of iconic wild animal species, rich biodiversity, and a huge number of opportunities in the tourism space. Certain Asian countries are also key trade partners of South Africa, with one of the unfortunate consequences being that many species are traded and exported for use in Asian countries - either for medicine, entertainment, or even under the guise of education. Accordingly, the trade of wildlife from South Africa to Asian countries is a big problem, which threatens many already vulnerable animal populations, among its other major problems.


IALA: What goals would you like to achieve through the Alliance for Animal Law of Asia? In which ways do you think Animal Law Reform South Africa could help the animal advocacy field within the Alliance for Animal Law of Asia?


Amy: Given some of the considerations above, I believe there are a number of opportunities for animals through strengthening alliances between South African (and other African) organisations and Asian countries. Education, research, and collaboration are essential if we are to protect our Earth and ensure a future for all. Through being a member of the Alliance for Animal Law of Asia, we hope to strengthen ties with organisations working on these issues in Asia and around the world, share resources, identify areas for strategic intervention, and promote legitimate and accurate research that we can use in our efforts and learn from experiences with others doing this kind of work.


IALA: Are you seeking any global participation in developing animal law through the Animal Law Reform South Africa? Do you intend to collaborate with other countries/regions to improve the protection of animals in South Africa?


Amy: Definitely, we work with organisations and individuals around the world. While our work is mainly focused in South Africa, we recognise that animal, human and environmental protection are global issues, and as our world becomes increasingly globalised, so too must our efforts be. In addition to our involvement in IALA, we collaborate and are partners with organisations throughout Africa, in Europe, in the USA and are continuously expanding our coalitions and relationships.


IALA: Do you have any experience or suggestions to share with our members on how to advocate for animals more effectively?


Amy: As an individual, one thing that I suggest is to educate yourself about your own habits and lifestyle and the effect and impact that these have on animals, humans, and the environment. Not everyone can work for systemic change, nor does everyone have access to the same resources, however, I believe that everyone can do something. Start by researching your day-to-day life, the impact you have on the planet, and what you can do or change within your personal means and life to help. Then, share this knowledge with others - whether in person, through your social media, or other channels you have access to. If every single one of the billions of people on Earth were able to make small daily changes, this would have a massive impact and would be the revolution that is needed.


IALA: What else would you like to tell the audience of the Institute of Animal Law of Asia (IALA)?


Amy: I would encourage your audience to continue their education and research and to support organisations doing good work. As I have mentioned, everyone can make a difference, and sharing knowledge is key if we are to tackle the threats facing our shared Earth population.


IALA: Thank you again for taking the time for this interview. We enjoyed talking with you and discussing animal law issues that we can solve together as the Institute of Animal Law of Asia (IALA) and the Animal Law Reform South Africa (ALRSA).

Learn more about the Animal Law Reform South Africa (ALRSA): https://www.animallawreform.org/ or email contact@animallawreform.org

Stay tuned for more interviews with other members of the Alliance for Animal Law of Asia!

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