The 2019-2020 Australian bushfires had a devastating impact on animals. A report sponsored by the WWF estimates that some three billion wild native vertebrate animals were in the paths of the fires, and the disaster has driven several affected species considerably closer to extinction. Tens of thousands of domesticated farm animals also perished, either directly by the fires or as a result of being euthanised with fire-related injuries. In addition, there was concern about the adequacy of arrangements for the evacuation and care of companion animals during the fires. In these diverse ways, the catastrophe reiterated animals' profound and multidimensional vulnerability to disaster events. Using case studies, this paper examines the role law plays in contributing to this vulnerability. It investigates how animals' status as property under law enables them to be held, treated and managed in a manner that increases their exposure to hazards. It also considers how this status affects the priority animals are afforded in disaster planning and response. Further, the paper scrutinises the extent to which statutory welfare and environmental protections are capable of optimising wellbeing and survival outcomes for animals in the peculiar context of a disaster.
Ashleigh is a PhD Candidate and Teaching Fellow at Melbourne Law School. Her doctoral research examines the legal status of animals in natural disasters, marrying her long-standing interests in animal law, environmental law and legal theory. Before commencing her PhD, Ashleigh worked as a commercial and environmental lawyer, first at Allens and later at the NSW EPA. Ashleigh has taught students across a range of core and elective law subjects. She holds a Bachelor of Laws (First Class Honours and University Medal), a Bachelor of Arts in Communication (Social Inquiry) and a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice.