Definition of the Term "Animal"-Classification of Animals-ownership of Animals
In law, the term "Animals" includes all beasts, birds, reptiles, fish, and insects, except where some restricted meaning is stated in some particular statute, with which it is not proposed to trouble the reader. The two main divisions of animals are domestic and tame animals, and wild animals; there are further animals, originally wild, which have been tamed and are actually in a state of subjection, and domestic animals which have reverted to a wild state.
There is absolute property in domestic animals, as in other personal and movable chattels, and if they stray or are lost, the owner still retains his claim to them.
The young of domestic animals belong to the owner of the mother, except in the case of cygnets.
Swans belong to the class of wild animals that have been reclaimed; but the white swan, not marked, in open and common rivers, is a Royal bird, and belongs to the King. Anyone, however, may possess white swans, not marked, in his manor or private waters, and if they escape, may bring them back again; but if the birds gain their natural liberty, and revert to their wild state, the King's officers may seize them.
The cygnets belong equally to the owner of the cock and the owner of the hen, for the quaint reason, "the cock swan is the emblem of an affectionate and true husband to his wife above all other fowls."
The swans on the Thames now belong to the King, the Dyers' Company, and the Vintners' Company, and are all marked. The cygnets are distributed in the proportion of three to the owner of the cock, and two to the owner of the hen.
This class includes deer, foxes, hares, rabbits, rooks, pigeons, game of all kinds, wild fowl, fishes, reptiles and insects. There is, strictly speaking, no absolute property in wild animals while living, and they are not goods or chattels; but if they are killed or die, an absolute property in the dead animal vests in the owner or occupier of the land or the person who has the shooting or sporting rights, as the case may be therefore the trespasser can have no property in the wild animals killed by him.
Animals naturally wild become the property of anyone who takes, tames, or reclaims them, until they regain their natural liberty. Examples of such animals are deer, swans, peacocks, and doves.
The captive thrush, canary, parrot, or monkey have been held to be merchandise and valuable when in a state of captivity. Thus an action will lie against anyone who takes them away from their owner. So, too, for taking doves out of a dovecot, hares, pheasants, or partridges in a warren or enclosure, deer in a park, a tame hawk, fish in a private pond, rabbits in a warren, swans marked or in private waters, or bees from a hive.
Deer are, strictly speaking, wild animals; but if reclaimed and kept in .enclosed ground, are the subject of property, pass to the executors on the death of their owner, and are liable to be taken in distress. There is no property in bees except by reclamation. If a swarm settle on a man's tree, he acquires no right of ownership in them until the bees are hived, and when this is done they become the property of the hiver; if a swarm leaves the hive, it remains the property of the hiver so long as it can be seen and followed.
The owner of the land has a qualified property in the young of wild animals born on the land until they can fly or run away, as, for example, where hawks, herons, or rabbits make their nests or burrows on the land and have young, and an action will lie against any person taking the young animals without leave of the owner.
If poachers take rabbits, sell them, and send them away by rail, the servants of the owner of the land are justified in following them up and taking possession of them from the purchaser.
If a person out hunting starts an animal in the ground of one person, and hunts it into the ground of another, and kills it there, it has been held that the property of the animal is not in the person upon whose ground it was started, or in the person on whose ground it was killed, but in the person who killed it, although the latter might be liable to action for trespass for hunting on either ground. It would certainly be hard upon those who were in at the death if the farmer on whose land the fox was killed were to claim it; but at the same time it is rather startling to find that a huntsman was able to maintain trespass for a dead hare against the owner of the land upon which the animal was killed by hounds. On the other hand, if a trespasser starts a wild animal in a forest or warren, and hunts it into the ground of another, and then kills it, the property in the animal remains in the proprietor of the forest or warren.
Domestic and tame animals, such as horses, cattle, oxen, sheep, poultry, peacocks, and all animals which are fit for human food, and their young, and eggs, are the subject of larceny at common law. Dogs, cats, and animals of a base nature, are not; but dog-stealing has been made punishable, and so, too, has the stealing of beasts or birds ordinarily kept in a state of confinement, which are not the subject of larceny.
Killing pigeons or doves under circumstances that do not amount to larceny at common law is punishable with a fine of £2 above the value of the bird. As, for example, shooting a carrier pigeon on its flight; the right to prosecute is not limited to the owner of the bird. But if a farmer, in order to protect his crops, shoots pigeons plundering his seeds, he cannot be convicted under this section.
Killing or maiming cattle, or stealing horses, cows, or sheep are felonies punishable with fourteen years' penal servitude. The killing or wounding of any dog, bird, beast, or other animal not being cattle, but being either the subject of larceny at common law, or being ordinarily kept in a state of confinement, or for any domestic purpose, has been made an offence punishable by fine or imprisonment.
Unlawfully to course, hunt, snare, kill, or wound any deer in the unenclosed part of any forest or chase, or to attempt to do any of these things, is punishable with a fine of £50. The same offence committed a second time, or where the deer are kept in the enclosed part of any forest or enclosed land, is a felony punishable with two years' imprisonment. Other statutory offences are, being unlawfully in possession of deer or parts of them, or of snares for taking them; or destroying fences where deer are kept, or beating the deer-keepers, who may demand and seize the guns or dogs of offenders. Setting snares or taking and killing hares or rabbits at night or by day in any warren or ground lawfully used for breeding and keeping them may cause the offenders to be brought before a justice, and fined £5, or sent for trial to the assizes.
Injuries Caused by Animals
Although there is nothing unlawful in keeping wild and dangerous animals, the person who does so is liable for any injury committed by them irrespective of any negligence on his part or knowledge of their savage disposition. So if the animal belongs to a class generally recognised as dangerous or mischievous, such as monkeys, elephants, lions, tigers, bears, wolves, the fact that the particular animal has been brought to a degree of tameness which amounts to domestication will not exonerate the owner if it does any mischief.