Are rights prescribed to animals and nature, or are they inherent and pre-existent?

Mehran Banaei and Nadeem Haque

Abstract: Nature is remarkably ahead of humankind by over four billion years in research and development; however, nature’s wisdom can easily be plagiarized by humans at zero cost. By observing how nature operates, humankind can immensely benefit beyond biomimicry, in the area of socio-political dynamics.[1]  In this article, as the title suggests the authors dwell on a universal foundation for animal and ecological rights derived from nature itself, where the implemented laws are not relative or socio-culturally biased. The authors further argue that the proper use of nature requires that one must be aware that animals and the rest of ecology do indeed possess inherent rights, and that these rights must be upheld. We can arrive at this universal conclusion for the existence of inherent rights and see that such rights stem from first principles, using our mind and the signs in the universe, endowments that are readily accessible to any human being, anywhere on this planet, at any given time.

Every weekend at a zoo in the city of Sari, in northern Iran, a living and breathing old donkey is thrown into a cage containing a pack of lions. In front of hundreds of salivating spectators, the poor, petrified and defenceless creature having nowhere to run, is immediately ripped apart by the talons of voracious hungry lions.[2]  The donkey, an obedient domestic animal that all his life worked so hard for free to enrich his selfish proprietor, now that has he reached the age of retirement his pension package is a brutal death sentence. In his short remaining life, he is no longer economically viable; nevertheless his death could still generate a few more dollars for his cruel and heartless owner which serves to entertain an insensitive crowd too busy not to miss an excellent photo taking opportunity. Sadly, such a cruel act is not limited to this zoo in Iran. In most zoos and safari parks around China, feeding live goats and cows to lions and tigers is a popular hourly show for tourists.[3]  The show is considered as a family entertainment. But to some, this cruel feat is nothing, but outrageous and an outright criminal act. Caged predators have no hunting experience; consequently, it would take them a very long time to kill a live defenseless prey. The barbaric act committed is a crime because unlike as it is in wild nature, the prey has no means to defend itself and suffers from a prolonged painful death. For example, when a lion goes after a zebra in the savannah, the zebra can either run as fast as he can, blend in with other zebras to confuse the lion, or directly defend himself by kicking the lion while on the run. Neither of these options is available in a confined man-made environment. In fact, in the wild, a zebra first and foremost tries consciously to avoid all predators. In nature, it is all fair game. Nevertheless, when a zebra is caught by a lion, the lion immediately chokes the zebra to death. The zebra is dead in just a few minutes before the pack devours the prey. The horrible crime committed in Chinese Safari parks is then proudly videotaped by the accomplice tourists and put on Youtube as the trophy of their exploitive expedition to witness nature in a truly disturbing and unnatural setting.

tigerm_450x300Tigers are not a social species; in the wild they are solitary hunters and only ambush their prey

Poor DonkeyPlease get up even if your back is broken or you will be thrown to the lions

Everyday thousands of animals of all kinds are being brutally sentenced to abuse, deprivation and driven to extinction, due to the insensitive activities of humankind. Indeed, the very ecosystems which serve as the basis of life are being devastated as never before. Yet, in this atmosphere, although there is a great deal of ‘lovey-dovey mumbo-jumbo’ talks about “saving the planet”, it appears that more than passing sentiments are going to be necessary to make effective amends. A proper attitudinal shift is required so that our attentions are translated into the performance of the most useful kinds of actions possible. Sincere emotional concern is not sufficient. What needs to be examined is our attitude towards how we ought to relate to nature as human beings. Indeed, what is needed is the realization of a globally beneficial and integrated worldview.

The obvious question which comes to mind, in connection with such issues is that of the concept of rights. Does the donkey in the above picture have any rights? Is it justified to kidnap wild animals from their natural habitats and cage them in a confined space in order to generate income? Are we human beings justified in categorizing ourselves as the “chosen species”, given the fact that animals existed long before even the first homo-sapiens ever set foot on the earth? Do we possess the autonomous authority to override animals and nature for the fulfilment of our egocentric whims? Or are we, on the contrary, violating the rights of animals, together with the rest of nature?

MatadorWhat is this bleeding bull trying to convey to this Matador?

The opponents, and even many of the proponents of animal rights assume that the concept of rights is a subjective human construct and originates in the minds of human beings. They presume that these rights are not absolute, but rather, arbitrary. According to this view, all rights extendable to animals, by humans, are relative determined by vested interests and socio-cultural factors. There is no such thing as an absolute right. On the contrary, what needs to be pointed out is that the very assumption that the source of all rights is an institution of human beings, is itself fallacious: it is, indeed, just another anthropocentric (human-centered) notion as to where rights emanate from. In fact, this premise is a prime example of a faulty argument known as the fallacy of dubious assumption or fallacy of problematic premise.[4]  This fallacy surfaces when the foundation of one’s argument is based on a premise or on a set of premises, which are not validated and are open to question. Therefore, what we should ask in the first place is: Is it indeed legitimate to assume that all rights are conventional?

John Locke, the seventeenth century thinker was among those over the centuries who noticed this erroneous form of argumentation. Locke argued for natural rights discoverable by reason, as opposed to those imposed by the changing institutions of social convention. He asserted that the state of nature is the state of liberty, not of license and that therefore, the state of nature has the law of nature to govern it. These laws are absolute and independent of governmental legislation. This led to the view that the rights derived from recognition of these laws, are neither relative nor the products of human convention: everything is unnatural about the captivity of wild animals, just as everything is natural about their inborn freedom in the state of nature.

The State of Nature

In the natural domain, when the relationship between members of the same species and coexisting participants is examined, we realize that within such interspecies’ and intraspecies’ interactions, the prevalence of rights is associated with their behavioural patterns. Many mammals, birds and even some fish are highly territorial as they explicitly mark off the extent of their boundaries. In the event that the markings are missed, any unwelcome visitors would be immediately chased out. The defence of a territory does not usually involve fighting. Most often, for example, the invader respects the displays of a resident bird’s vociferous squawks or threat displays. Such communicative objections are usually sufficient to cause the invader to withdraw peacefully. The explicit unwritten right here is tantamount to: This is my tree – keep off! Another example, is of hyenas abruptly terminating the chase of a promising prey animal as soon as they reach the border of neighbouring hyena territory, even though no other predators are in sight.[5]

Some mammals such as the dominant bull elephant seal, and the sea lion, are highly possessive of the females in their polygynous entourage. The dominant male fights off any rival male who approaches his females, making sure that the intruder understands that he alone has the right to mate with the females. The message being conveyed in this case, is equivalent to: Stay away from my relations!

It can also be observed, that in some specific instances, hyenas and wild dogs give up their hard earned kill without even putting up a fight, as soon as a lion approaches the carcass. There is a social ranking among the various species which have gathered while the lions feast. When they have consumed enough, the attendant species proceed one by one in a specific order towards the remaining flesh. The sequential order of approach is as follows: firstly the hyenas, followed by the wild dogs, then the jackals, the vultures and lastly the insects and worms.[6]  All of this suggests the existence of well established relational ranking among species: the lions appear to have a priority, in this instance at least, over the meal, than their ravenous audience. This ‘power’ and priority in nature is directly linked to the sustenance of equilibrium, however, and not to greed.

Competition or Cooperation?

There are various perspectives in ethology, on whether there is cooperation or competition among animals. Some of those who posit that animal interactions are all purely cooperative, state that because the above-cited examples of animal behaviour are mistakenly held as being competitive, it is then assumed that rights automatically exist (because only when there is competition in the human world are there rights associated with competition). Such cooperationists feel that when the proponents of competition theory refer to such observations, they are anthropocentrically equating rights with competition. In fact, some of these radical cooperationists hold that there is no actual competition among wild animals and that therefore one cannot even talk about rights when it comes to the wilderness.

Although the above-mentioned observations may not be sufficient to conclude the presence of competition among species, they are nonetheless an indication of territorial ownership. Whether the behavioural patterns exhibit competition or cooperation is, in fact, absolutely irrelevant here, since even in the case of cooperation, there are associated constraints. After all, cooperation does not exclude respect for mutual ownership. Indeed, we cannot escape the fact that cooperation itself includes the fulfilment of the respective functions contractually or verbally assigned to mutually cooperating parties. This fulfilment is an expectant right of the mutually opposite members of the same cooperative unit.

Animals, in actuality, appear to be engaged in more than our simplistic anthropocentric notions of either cooperation or competition. Each species conducts itself by rules, within myriad infrastructures and dwellings which are optimally suited to their own particular needs. Indeed each species is in total submission to something higher. The universe certainly exhibits higher and novel design principles that are beyond the wildest imaginations of the best of what the top scientists can conjure up. Each design is an optimal solution to a problem, which would have been intractable where this solution were to have absent.

Animal species also engage in various forms of communication,[7]  in what could best be described as communities.[8]  In order to flourish, any community, be it human or non-human requires a set of regulatory principles based on just natural law, which ensure the collective stability of social order taken as an ensemble. Indeed, examples of such animal behaviour are profuse. Animals themselves never came up with any individual preventative strategy or technology to make the best of their environment. Their needs were provided. Is it not fair to raise the question: by whom?

The Source of All Rights

By reflecting on the expanding universe, and the diversity of life forms within it, we certainly observe a panoramic display of remarkable order and consistency. Such harmonious order is maintained throughout, by the structure of the extremely delicate balances in the physical universe, as for instance in the ecological realm of existence, where plants and animals have been designed to be ingeniously adapted to their respective niches. There is indeed a fragile equilibrium within nature’s economy; even a minute change would disrupt the balances in this dynamically interrelated scheme of existence.

Consider a notorious case of human folly, which occurred in Australia. Not too long ago, a famous movie star appeared a number of times on camera, wearing an outfit made of snake skin. As a result of this blatant exposition, the outfit became the prevailing fashion of the day. To keep up with an increasing market demand, the suppliers raided the bushes, killing as many snakes as possible, not realizing that the snake has a function in the food web. It preys on rats. Since the inherent property of this physical universe rules that every cause is followed by effects, and that for every action there is a concomitant reaction, the subsequent callous mass slaughter of snakes, resulted in an explosion in rat population. The prairies were destroyed, as the multitudinous rats consumed all their favourite crops. This culminated in a man-made food shortage in parts of Australia and further led to increased habitat destruction through the continuation of ecosystemical dislocations. These were induced by none other than a network of cause and effect interdependencies. The example just cited, is not simply an isolated case; indeed, the world is plagued at present by the elimination or reduction of many species, interconnected to the precious web of life by similar or worse catastrophes.[9]

In fact, this disastrous episode graphically reveals that in order to maintain the balances in nature, the snake has the inherent right to remain unmolested and free in its natural setting. This right is not derived by an arbitrary or selected social convention; rather, it is the snake’s natural right, as defined by the universality of cause and effect relations, manifested in the equilibrating checks and balances within the countless structures and processes in the universe. Universal laws of cause and effect dictate natural rights with well-defined parameters. In fact, in some cases the natural laws would themselves dictate that the animal in question should have more rights than the human, in order for the system to move toward the restoration of the natural balance. For example, if the human and the animal shared a common food resource and there was a shortage of supply, the animal would have precedence over the human, in the consumption of that resource, for the human would have many alternatives, whereas the animal would be tightly bound by its niche. Take the case of the Galapagos Islands and various other national parks around the world where inherent natural rights based on the conservation of the balance of nature are fully recognized and upheld by the international and local governmental institutions. The pristine ecosystem has to be preserved and untouched. In the Galapagos, as bizarre as it sounds, animals, no matter what species have more rights than the wealthiest humans. All natural inhabitants of the Islands enjoy the rights not to be disturbed, while animals from the outside have no rights even to enter the Islands (brought in). The question is: Why should this sound policy be limited to a just few places on earth?

With this kind of an overview, it is observable that it should not be humans who should invent this right. Rather, it should be we, who should recognize these unique rights, by observing the interrelationships within the processes inherent in the universe on earth. We should therefore choose to intraconnect these discoveries within the communities in nature, be those communities human or non-human, as naturally integral components of already pre-existing universal laws. In a sense then, it is nature which projects the realization of these rights onto the sense of the human, if the human is observant of those very balances in nature in the first place. These rights are not relative, but absolute, as they are founded upon and originate from the equilibrium of nature.

Given all these factors, an obvious thought which comes to mind, however, is that so-called “Mother Nature” is not in itself a conscious entity, and one could still pose the logical and legitimate question: What exactly is the real source of the originated laws and the natural rights derived therefrom? Many scientists and researchers are averse to attribute the indisputable wisdom behind nature because of undesired teleological implications. However, the fact is that nature’s components have been designed. This is an inescapable conclusion. For instance, it would be highly contradictory for atheist biologists to be applying for a design patent after having copied nature and then not ascribing design to the very object they are copying. They give credit to the personification of nature, processes and laws that are captured in the notion “Mother Nature”, “Self Organization” or “Natural Selection”, but it is interesting to see that “intelligence” and “will” are projected into these catch notions in the sense that for example, selection, particularly a wise or optimal one, implies an optimizing selector which implies intentionality, which in turn implies intelligence and consciousness, of unsurpassable wisdom. Indeed, how can atoms or energy be conscious or wise? Atoms and energy do not choose. They cannot choose but just be existent and unconsciously follow prescribed or designed laws!

The realization of natural laws on all levels, then, is diametrically opposed to the concept of the human’s own manufactured notions of rights derived by social convention. In fact, social conventions must be in complete congruence with natural universal laws in order for the whole system to function beneficently. For if man-made conventions traverse against the natural flow of the universal laws, they cause crippling dysfunctionalities which ultimately lead to an inevitable collapse of the integral systems of life. For example, take the case of governmental policies regarding deforestation: clear cutting in the Amazon and elsewhere around the world, has led to the death of forests, destroying their roles as the harbingers and maintainers of the crucial life support systems of our biosphere. The fact is, that not much regard had been paid to their complex ecological characteristics. Now, more attention, though certainly not enough, is indeed being paid due to a clear cut realization of the adverse affect of such devastating conventional policies on the various creatures and their ecological niches. Any disruption in this natural order is not only harmful for florae and faunae, but also devastating for man. After all, man is not apart from nature, but a part of nature. When lakes and rivers dry out due to human actions in a particular country, all co-habitants of earth nearby and far away pay the price of human caprice.

A Worldview with Co-Integrated Rights

It has been discussed as to where rights should in actuality emanate from. However, if the term ‘rights’ in connection with animals and nature still conjures up a perception which appears incongruous for many, it is because humans have unnaturally disconnected themselves from the realization of the proper interconnectivity between the entities in nature and human society. For in essence, the issue of animal rights, and by extension, the ecosystems, boils down to how we ought to treat them. Let us therefore look beyond — to the core of the issue. Let us delve deeper and remember that if our concern here is truly about animal welfare, including the plight of the whole ecosystem and the future of humanity, then let us not get bogged down by some trivial semantic objections as to what it really means to give rights to animals and the rest of nature. Let us look to the essence of things. We could, for example, substitute the word treatment policy or simply treatment for rights, for this is the very basis of what anything of value converges to.

Any human society is based on a particular worldview, which, perceptibly or imperceptibly, moulds the attitudes governing the treatment of things within its space. The present tragic state of affairs is stark living, or in fact dying proof that most human societies around the world have lost touch with the balance. However, if a society were to be comprised of individuals who would base their outlook on the reality of the principle of balances, from which all laws at any level could be deducible, their society would necessarily evolve to a stage where it would promulgate not only a balanced Charter of Human Rights, but also a co-integrated Charter of Animal-Ecological Rights. As established, the balances in nature put a limit to the extent of human rights, so that they are not utilized at the expense of animal and ecological rights. That is to say, human beings have no right to harm an animal for ostentatious personal luxuries or financial gains. In fact, individuals in such a society would recognize such rights within the very framework of their own governing constitution and would naturally implement any such inherent rights. This implementation would be the result of the realization that the human being is not at the centre of the universe, but anything in the natural world is at the centre of the universal concern, whenever the balances impinging upon it are threatened. With this worldview nothing of significance, whether it be in the universe or on the earth, be it large or small, would be looked upon with neglect or disdain. For in such an atmosphere, any entrenched anthropocentric view would be superseded by a teleocentric view which would include a deep concern and sensitivity for every living and non-living element within its embrace. With this concern, it would be realized that everything has a purpose and that there is indeed no redundancy in biodiversity.

Human beings, in such an evolved society, would form an integral part of this natural legislative process. They would be cognizant that humans are the only uniquely reasoning multi-adaptive carbon-based creatures on the face of the earth and would be responsible for their myriad interactions. Such individuals would, in actuality, be the only ones who would not be blinded by the beasts within; rather, they would realize the existence of such rights with wholesome sensitivity. No doubt, they would deeply understand that, so far as is known, this is the only planet where the interface of fate between the global community of humankind, and that of the established communities of animals in the rest of nature is necessarily interlocked in a state of mutual dependency.

In the final assessment, it is only as a direct result of this development, that can a sustainable and enhancing future for all humans, animals and their ecological/environmental niches be assured, on the singular global niche of our precious planet earth. Yet, how long will the plea of the earth go unheeded, as a solitary cry in the midst of depleting wilderness? This plea will go unheeded until we all recognize with due cognizance and diligence that we, like the dynamic atoms of this universe, must also acknowledge that there is a law Giver who alone is worthy of the credit of the wondrous panoply of the entirety of existence.


1. Banaei, Mehran (2012), Being Ant-worthy, Scientific God Journal, February 2012, Vol. 3, Issue 2, pp. 213- 216.
Banaei, Mehran (2012), Conflict Resolution strategies: Lessons from Nature, Scientific God Journal, May 2012, Vol. 3, Issue 4, pp. 409-414.



4. Johnson, R.H. and Blair, J.A. (1983), Logical Self-Defence, p. 46.

5. Kruuk, Hans (1972), The Spotted Hyena: A Study of Perdition and Social Behaviour, p. 160.


7. Bright, Michael (1984), Animal Language.

8. Giller, Paul S. (1984), Community Structure and Niche.
Forsyth, Adrian (1989), “Togetherness: The Logic of the Herd”, Equinox, No. 43, pp. 48-57.



1 Comment

Filed under Animal Rights

One response to “Are rights prescribed to animals and nature, or are they inherent and pre-existent?

  1. Your article will definitely come in handy. Thank you for writing a great post.

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