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If Nature Had Rights

What would people need to give up?

By Cormac Cullinan January/February 2008 issue of Orion magazine

IT WAS THE SUDDEN RUSH of the goats’ bodies against the side of the boma that woke him. Picking up a spear and stick, the Kenyan farmer slipped out into the warm night and crept toward the pen. All he could see was the spotted, sloping hindquarters of the animal trying to force itself between the poles to get at the goats—but it was enough. He drove his spear deep into the hyena.

The elders who gathered under the meeting tree to deliberate on the matter were clearly unhappy with the farmer’s explanation. A man appointed by the traditional court to represent the interests of the hyena had testified that his careful examination of the body had revealed that the deceased was a female who was still suckling pups. He argued that given the prevailing drought and the hyena’s need to nourish her young, her behavior in attempting to scavenge food from human settlements was reasonable and that it was wrong to have killed her. The elders then cross-examined the farmer carefully. Did he appreciate, they asked, that such killings were contrary to customary law? Had he considered the hyena’s situation and whether or not she had caused harm? Could he not have simply driven her away? Eventually the elders ordered the man’s clan to pay compensation for the harm done by driving more than one hundred of their goats (a fortune in that community) into the bush, where they could be eaten by the hyenas and other wild carnivores. Read more …

Audio: Read by Cormac Cullinan, Author
Listen as Cormac Cullinan reads his brilliant essay, “If Nature Had Rights”.

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In “If Nature Had Rights” author Cormac Cullinan imagines what nature might gain, and what people might “lose” if rights of nature were legally recognized.

The article was published in the January/February 2008 issue of Orion magazine.