Hippos as legal persons?

A federal court deemed hippos in Colombia to be “interested persons” under 28 USC 1728, allowing some federal officials to be deposed for a proceedings seeking personhood rights for descendants of Pablo Escobar’s cocaine hippos. This article and the implications of the legal success in this litigation brought by the Animal Legal Defense Fund piqued my interest.

Ordinarily, this would be just a legal oddity, though pretty unusual, since the U.S. courts have generally resisted lawsuits seeking legal personhood status for animals in the past. (For example, there is Tilikum v. Seaworld case (842 F.Supp. 2d 1259 (S.D.Cal. 2012)), where a federal court denied a 13th Amendment slavery claim by PETA on behalf the orca (killer whale) Tilikum for being kept in captivity. And also various unsuccessful habeas corpus cases brought by the leading animal rights lawyer Steven Wise of the Nonhuman Human Rights Project on behalf of chimpanzees kept in captivity.) But this is an interesting development in the context of more recent broader efforts, especially abroad, to accord legal personality and rights to animals and even rivers and landscapes. The best-known and probably most robust of these developments (discussed in the Rights of Nature chapter of our Comparative and Global Environmental Law Casebook) is a New Zealand statute that accords the Whanganui River (Te Awa Tupua) with legal personhood, the Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act (2017).

While U.S. Magistrate Judge’s Litkovitz’s very short order in this litigation is interesting, it’s unfortunate that the media has jumped on the precarious implications of legal personhood for the hippos. The order itself addresses none of that. Ultimately, 28 U.S.C. 1728 is a procedural code provision designed to facilitate cross-border litigation, sort of like a professional courtesy for judges and lawyers from other countries because the US system has to rely reciprocally on such courtesies when cases here require evidence or testimony from abroad. An Above the Law blog post noted that Colombia does allow animals to bring lawsuits (or for cases to be brought on behalf of them), and so recognizing the state of Colombian law would not necessarily imply a change in US law. Furthermore, while I don’t focus on these procedural issues of law, this code provision has allowed agents of parties in foreign litigation to seek the federal courts’ assistance with witness testimony/depositions, just as the lawyers for the hippos (the animals’ supposed agents) have done here. So, unfortunately, the screaming headlines are overreaching by a lot. But what’s new about that . . .

Anyway, really interesting legal development; but likely of limited legal significance. (But significant enough that we’ll probably include a reference to it in the next edition of our casebook.)

Position (updated Oct. 11, 2021 with upgraded position): Santa Clara Law School, Center for Global Law and Policy, Senior Program Manager (Santa Clara, CA)

As I posted previously, the Center for Global Law and Policy was looking for a program manager for our Center programs. We recently received approval to upgrade the position to Senior Program Manager (compensation commensurate with qualifications) and thus have re-posted the job position to reflect that change. The link to Santa Clara University’s Workday listing (the University’s human resources job listings website) remains the same (but now shows the updated position title). For reference, here it is again:


In a nutshell, the Senior Program Manager for the Center for Global Law and Policy is in charge of the day-to-day operations of the Center, which includes both planning and providing operational support for the Center’s nine summer study-abroad programs in Asia and Australia, Europe, and Latin America, administering the Center’s International Law Certificates options and student exchange programs, and supporting all other aspects of the Center’s activities. For additional information for the Center for Global Law and Policy, please see CGLP’s website.

We will take resumes until the position is filled. However, for priority consideration, please submit application materials (cover letter, resume or CV, and references) by October 24, 2021. The materials should be submitted directly via the Workday job listing (which can be reached via the provided link).

Please share this job opportunity with anybody who might be interested.