By Monique Balas
Animal-law students and faculty who recently participated in a two-week summer program in Kenya say the experience was eye-opening and underscored the importance of their work.
The group of eight, which included seven students and one practicing attorney, spent two weeks in the African country as part of a pilot program coordinated by Lewis & Clark Law School's Center for Animal Law Studies.
Participants in the Kenya Legal Project met with African conservation organizations, wildlife groups and prosecutors to discuss ways to end poaching, animal trafficking and cruelty in the country.
"It was nice for the students to have that hands-on experience as a juxtaposition to the work they typically do, which is more behind-the-scenes," says Kathy Hessler, director of the school's Animal Law Clinic.
Hessler led the trip along with Natasha Dolezal, director of the school's animal law LL.M. program.
They discovered firsthand the challenges involved in the country's efforts to stop poaching after joining members of the Africa Network for Animal Welfare and rangers with the Kenya Wildlife Service on a search for bush-meat snares.
Within only a couple of hours, they had taken down eight snares.
Sadly, one of the traps they came across was not empty. A large male impala had been caught and killed, likely only hours before their grim discovery.
The experience proved both emotional and motivational, as it drove home the importance of their work.
Seeing animals in their natural habitat was "intense, because even though you were seeing the animals, you were seeing them through the perspective of how endangered they are," Dolezal says.
For David Rosengard, a Juris Doctor student who participated on the Kenya trip, the experience emphasized that helping animals, even those on another continent, can also help humans everywhere by fighting the forces that support poaching.
"Combating the militarized poachers who are doing this hunting not only saves those animals from death, but undermines the organized crime and terror networks which fund themselves off of poaching proceeds," he says, "and in turn spread corruption, violence, and misery. In this way, advancing the interests of animals also advances our societal interests."
Other aspects of the trip included meeting with magistrates and judges who hear cases of poaching crimes in their courtroom. Two of those judges are now here in Portland, taking animal-law classes at Lewis & Clark.
The group also met with students and faculty at Riara University Law School to discuss the possibility of adding an animal-law program to its curriculum. The Kenya Legal Project was the first animal-law course taught in Africa.
Since the Kenya trip was a pilot project, the program will need to get approval from the Lewis & Clark Law School and funding in order to return next year.