University of Otago: New Zealand’s First-Ever “Animal Law Week”

This spotlight was submitted by Danielle Duffield, president of the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand.

With the support of a generous grant from the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the University of Otago Student Animal Legal Defense Fund hosted New Zealand’s first-ever Animal Law Week, August 9-13, 2010. As our law school does not yet offer an animal law course, our goal in organizing this week was simple: to put animal law on the agenda.

Each day of the week, students in our chapter led a range of self-researched and self-presented animal law seminars. These began on the Monday with a seminar addressing animal cruelty sentencing and issues relating to international wildlife trade. Other topics presented throughout the week included fur farming and regulation in New Zealand, factory farming, animal experimentation, and whaling. Attendance to these seminars remained consistently high throughout the week – the factory farming seminar being particularly popular, with nearly forty students attending.

SALDF members with Peter SankoffA key highlight of the week was a guest lecture by the internationally renowned animal law professor Peter Sankoff, author of Animal Law in Australasia: A New Dialogue. Having recently taught the world’s first course in comparative animal law at Lewis & Clark Law School, Sankoff is an international expert on comparative animal law and we were all very excited about having him visit. His interactive presentation entitled “Why the Welfare Construct Fails to Protect Animals From Suffering” was very well received by a moot court packed full of law students, professors, representatives from local animal welfare organizations and members of the public.

Other events of the week included a stall on campus, a screening of Earthlings, and an interdisciplinary presentation exploring the scientific, legal and political dynamics to marine mammal protection in New Zealand, presented by a diverse panel consisting of a zoology professor, law professor and Green Party Co-leader and Member of Parliament, Metiria Turei. To finish off the week, we hosted an “Animal Advocates” dinner at a local vegan restaurant with members of our national animal protection organization, Save Animals From Exploitation (SAFE).

With a full turnout to all the events – indeed, with many of the seminars being so popular that we had to grab additional seating from other rooms – the week really could not have been more successful!

A SALDF tabling eventAnimal protection has never been on the radar at Otago, and yet, by the end of the week, it was all the talk of the school. our dean had emailed us his congratulations, our law student society was offering to help us out in any way possible, we had recruited new members and gathered several pages worth of signatures petitioning for an animal law course. Over 150 students were listed as attending on our Facebook event page (the actual figure was likely to have been even higher) and we were pleased to hear many comment that the week had been an eye-opener for them.

Additionally, throughout the week we facilitated the writing of over two hundred letters in support of an impending parliamentary bill to ban gestation crates and battery cages. We also received positive media coverage for the week, including being featured in our student magazine, on a popular animal law blog and on a local TV news channel.

Since Animal Law Week, we have remained busy. As well as organizing an upcoming guest speaker, last week we volunteered for SAFE at a local event, helped organize a public lecture on invasive research of Hector’s dolphins for Conservation Week, and met with a local Member of Parliament to discuss impending anti-confinement legislation. Additionally, we recently tabled at an organic foods festival – handing out more information, collecting more signatures in support of the anti-confinement bill and instigating further discourse about animal welfare reform in New Zealand. Two chapter members have also had articles on animal law published in our law school magazine. And with a feature article on our chapter soon to appear in the national New Zealand law student magazine, who knows, perhaps students at other law schools in the country will be inspired to establish SALDF chapters and to organize Animal Law Weeks of their own.

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