“The Curious Legal History of the Original Outlaws”

Robert Hoskins wrote an interesting essay on the origins, evolution, and contradictions in wildlife law. He emailed it to me for consideration as a post. I think folks will find it very interesting.


“The Curious Legal History of the Original Outlaws”

by Robert Hoskins

[Note: I originally published this essay in the May 1998 issue of Wyoming Wildlife under the pen name Philip Elkhorn].

CIVILIZED PEOPLES, especially those who raise domestic animals and crops or who manage big-game animals for human hunting, have until recently always considered predatory animals and pests to be outlaws–thieves who steal what humans believe they have produced with their own labor, or have a natural right to possess.

What we may not realize is that since the beginning of agriculture, humans have considered all wild animals to be outlaws that were outside or beyond human control–unlike domestic livestock. Ancient Roman law described wildlife as ferae naturae, or wild by nature. That wild animals were ferae naturae didn’t change the desire of humans to establish control over wildlife for human benefit. But humans have had to deal with wildlife’s incorrigible wildness first. Wild animals had lives and spirits of their own; humans could not possess them except under special conditions that usually involved death but always restraint.

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