The animal rights movement is a product of the late
20th century, when many accepted relationships between humans and the environment have come under
scrutiny. Contemporary animal rights advocates see
their cause in very broad terms: a general attempt to
protect animals from human exploitation, defined as
the use of animals (or their parts) in scientific research, consumer products, and sport. Those involved
in the movement range from people with philosophical objections to those who actively protest to those
who engage in sometimes violent action against facilities that use animals. The movement has already affected sports such as horse racing, rodeo, and fox
Historians and social scientists trace the contemporary
animal rights movement to the 19th-century antivivisection movement, which opposed the use of animals
for scientific research. Originally a Puritan reaction to
both the Industrial Revolution and Victorian materialism, the antivivisection movement responded to perceptions of the increasing human exploitation of, and
intrusion into, the natural world.
The Victorian antivivisection movement used sensationalized publicity, popularized exposes of animal mistreatment, and apocalyptic literature to mobilize public
sentiment against animal experimentation, animal baiting, and the use of animals in sport. The movement depended heavily on aristocratic noblesse oblige for support and played heavily upon public sensibilities
concerning morality and brutality.
The movement had little impact upon the use of animals and eventually disintegrated. However, the symbolic reaction against the use of animals did not disappear, but left the reformist animal welfare movement as
its legacy. The cause was perpetuated by less radical
groups that sought reform of societal attitudes toward
animals. Through the turn of the century these groups
continued working to abate animal suffering. Antivivisection sentiments reemerged briefly in the 1950s in
response to various scientific phenomena, but animal
welfare groups still predominated. Beginning in the
1960s, the cause of animal protection was transformed
from reformist calls for animal protection into the radical calls for societal redemption.
The contemporary animal rights movement has
evolved to question virtually all forms of animal use and
control. Using publicity, exposes, and apocalyptic literature, the movement has framed the issues surrounding
the status of animals in moralistic terms. However, unlike its progenitor, the radical animal rights movement
extends rights-based claims for moral consideration
and legal protection to animals.
The movement’s claim to moral equivalency between
human and nonhuman animals originates in two opposing philosophical schools. Utilitarianism cites the
creed, “The greatest good, for the greatest number, for
the longest time,” as its justification. Animal liberationists argue that since animals and people both feel
pain and pleasure, that the utilitarian creed should be
expanded to include nonhuman animals.
The moral rights argument emphasizes similarities
in the physiology, and therefore the inherent value, between higher mammals. Proponents argue that since
nonhuman animals have consciousness, expectations,
and desires, they likewise have personal autonomy and
The Animal Rights Movement
The animal rights movement consists of various organizations, which can be subdivided into roughly three
categories with different beliefs and goals. Some see animals as objects of compassion, deserving protection,
but acknowledge some boundaries between species.
Their goals include avoiding animal cruelty, limiting
animal populations, and adopting animals. Others believe that animals deserve moral and legal consideration, with a balance between human and nonhuman interests, and that there is some hierarchy of animals.
Their explicit goals include the elimination of all unnecessary suffering by reducing and replacing existing
uses of animals.A third group argues that animals have
absolute moral and legal rights to personal autonomy
and self-determination, with equal rights across
species, especially among higher vertebrates. They seek
total and immediate abolition of all animal exploitation and use moralistic rhetoric and public condemnation in conjunction with civil disobedience and direct
actions to protest the use of animals.
Several reasons explain this increase in awareness of
animal rights and the expansion of what those rights
are. Since the 1970s, researchers who have studied primates and marine mammals have concluded that these
animals have thinking ability, complex social groups,
and even forms of language. These conclusions have accentuated human empathy with animals. At the same
time, evolutionary theory has indicated that humans
and animals are biologically related, and indeed that
humans share a distant though long-ago ancestry with
other primates; in effect, scientists have argued that animals are much more similar to humans than previously thought. If indeed animals can think and feel and
are intelligent, if they are physically similar to people, if
they are evolutionary brothers and sisters of humans,
and if animals act almost “human,” then why should
they not be treated as the moral equivalent of people?
Implications for Sports
The implications of this philosophy for sports cannot
be overstated. Indeed, the impact of the animal rights
movement upon sport is ubiquitous in nature and
global in geography.
In England, blood sports such as foxhunting have
come under attack by the Hunt Saboteurs, an animal
rights group whose protests and confrontational disruptions of fox hunts have been highly publicized. The
Saboteurs oppose hunters who exploit the animals for
mere pleasure. In response, some hunts now chase human marathon runners rather than foxes, ending when
the hounds catch the runners, and a good time is had
by all. In continental Europe, the movement is found in
all sporting contexts. In Spain, animal rights activists
protest bullfighting, albeit unsuccessfully. In Germany,
catch-and-release fishermen have been attacked by animal rights activists, and the promenades of Vienna
find activists accosting the Viennese for wearing fur. In
Australia, the animal rights movement opposes kangaroo hunts, while in Africa animal rights groups protest
big game trophy safaris and claim to have been responsible for the shift toward noninjurious “photo-safaris.”
In the Arctic, animal rights groups protest subsistence
trapping as well as trophy hunting, and they have significantly affected both the fur industry and sportsmen. In the United States, rodeos have been forced to
justify their existence in the face of animal rights publicity. They have been picketed, and they now include
contingency plans for disruptions caused by animal
rights activists in their overall event planning. From
greyhound racing to pig wrestling, from pigeon shoots
to rattlesnake roundups, animal rights activists have
periodically appeared at events to protest and disrupt,
thus gaining publicity for their cause. Whether it be
deer hunting to control overpopulation or provide
pleasure, whether it be falconry or competitive sheep
herding, animal rights activists believe that the animals involved have the right to be left alone, regardless
of human justifications.
A striking example of the potential success of the
animal rights movement came in California in 1990.
California voters passed an initiative on the state ballot
that banned mountain lion hunting despite the opposition of hunting, gun, and agricultural groups. This is
significant to sportsmen for a variety of reasons. First,
the California Department of Fish and Game (CDF&G)
had determined that mountain lions were sufficiently
numerous to allow a lotteried hunt. Although the lion
had been both hunted and protected numerous times
in state history, biologists for the CDF&G believed that
population growth justified a hunt as a management
tool. Animal rights activists, however, disputed the scientific justification, arguing instead that hunting the lions was immoral and evil. Second, the animal rights
groups who passed the initiative contained a significant minority who wanted to ban hunting outright. The
leadership of the animal rights groups agreed that an
outright ban on hunting was premature and would
have failed. Instead they identified legislative strategy
with a high likelihood of passing, banning the hunting
of individual, charismatic larger animals. A 1996 California initiative to rescind the legislation protecting the
cats, and thus subjecting them to hunting, was resoundingly defeated.Activists intend to extrapolate the
success in California to other areas of sports. As a result, other states such as Oregon and Colorado have
passed bans on specific types of hunting as well as
hunting of certain species.
Some observers argue that animal rights activists,
although highly visible at sporting events, have had little success in ending them. Nonetheless, the very presence of the activists indicates that the movement is
growing, and the dismissals of the movement’s impending demise have been greatly exaggerated.
—WESLEY V. JAMISON
Bibliography: Dizard, Jan. (1994) Going Wild: Hunting, Animal Rights, and the Contested Meaning of Nature.
Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press. Jasper,
James, and Dorothy Nelkin. (1992) The Animal Rights
Crusade: The Growth of a Moral Protest. New York: Free
Press. Regan, Tom. (1985) The Case for Animal Rights.
Berkeley: University of California Press. Sperling, Susan.
(1988) Animal Liberators: Research and Morality. Berkeley: University of California Press.
The animal rights movement is a product of the late