Current Key Projects

Dolphin and Whale Captivity: The Kimmela Center is working with other organizations to provide expert research and testimony on behalf of captive dolphins and whales.

The Someone Project: The Kimmela Center is working with Farm Sanctuary to compile and publish scientific evidence for cognitive and emotional complexity in farm animals.

Past Key Projects

The Los Angeles Zoo Elephant Case, in which Dr. Marino served as an expert witness.

The Nonhuman Rights Project, for which The Kimmela Center provided the scientific expertise, data and guidance for four court cases on behalf of captive chimpanzees litigated in late 2013 and currently under appeal.

“I Am Not an Animal”: The Kimmela Center engages the field of human psychology with work and writing on human-nonhuman relationships.

Dolphin and Whale Captivity

For many years before founding the Kimmela Center, Dr. Lori Marino provided research, peer-reviewed papers, professional appearances, congressional testimony and media interviews to bring scientific credibility to advocacy efforts on behalf of captive whales and dolphins.

One of the first of these was a groundbreaking study demonstrating that bottlenose dolphins could recognize themselves in a mirror, thus showing that they have a sense of self not unlike our own. Her 20-year noninvasive research program and expertise on dolphin and whale brain size and complexity continue to be sought after for evidence that these highly intelligent, self-aware animals do not belong in captivity.

In 2014, Kimmela co-created and distributed a Scientists’ Statement Supporting the Orca Welfare and Safety Act with Naomi Rose of the Animal Welfare Institute, signed by forty prominent marine mammal scientists and presented at the California Assembly and Senate in April, 2014 and to be revisited in 2015.

Dr. Marino gave the keynote address at the 2014 Southern California Marine Mammal Workshop on the marine mammal captivity issue, and an invited talk at The Classy Awards in San Diego.

Other contributions to advocacy on behalf of cetaceans have included:

  • Publication of a multi-authored peer-reviewed methodological critique of the claim by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums that public displays of marine mammals are educational. This paper demonstrated that there is no evidence for these claims.
  • Congressional testimony refuting educational claims of the marine mammal display industry held by the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife in 2010.
  • Creating alternatives for studying dolphin and whale cognition in captive animals by developing research protocols for the noninvasive study of cetaceans in rehabilitation facilities such as sea pens and in the wild.
  • Presentations at symposia on personhood in dolphins and whales at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest scientific conference. (2010, 2012).
  • Creation and distribution of a scientists’ statement opposing the Georgia Aquarium’s application to import wild-caught beluga whales for public display, and live media/public information sessions on the factual basis for arguing against the import. Empowering local animal advocacy groups by providing the factual information critical to making strong and effective arguments.

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The Someone Project

The Kimmela Center and Farm Sanctuary are spearheading an exciting long-term project aimed at using the scientific evidence for cognition, emotional and social complexity in farm animals to demonstrate they are all someone- not something.

Kimmela is bringing to the world of farm animals the same kind of scientific exploration, rigorous data and background on the cognitive and emotional capacities of cows, pigs, chickens, sheep as it brings to its other projects.

The Someone Project includes several approaches, including a compilation of scientific research on farm animal behavior, emotions and cognition, the production of peer-reviewed scientific review papers and white papers, presentations at professional conferences, and a Call for Research Proposals.  These will be developed into a strategic plan for continued research with farm animals in sanctuary settings and the production of materials that will promote an increased awareness of, and appreciation for the cognitive, behavioral, and emotional lives of farm animals. This material will be used to influence farm animal policy for the benefit of the animals themselves.

Written by Kimmela Executive Director Lori Marino and Emory University Prof. Christina M. Colvin, the first white paper from The Someone Project is available here. It is entitled Thinking Pigs: Cognition, Emotion, and Personality – An Exploration of the Cognitive Complexity of Sus Domesticus, The Domestic Pig, and is based on their review paper published in the International Journal of Comparative Psychology in 2015.

In 2013-14, The Someone Project collaborated with Ghosts producer Liz Marshall to create an online educational resource on the animal issues in the film.

Our latest papers explore the cognitive, emotional and social capacities of chickens and cows. We conclude that chickens have a sense of self in relation to other chickens, that they learn through observing others, and that they engage in perspective-taking and deception when competing for mates.

And we note that cows have positive emotional reactions to learning, need friendships to buffer them from depression and anxiety, and are fiercely protective as mothers.

Thinking Chickens: A review of cognition, emotion, and behavior in the domestic chicken.
Download the peer-reviewed paper.
Download the white paper.

The Psychology of Cows: A review of cognition, emotion, and the social lives of domestic cows.
Download the peer-reviewed paper.
Download the white paper.

Dr. Marino discussed these papers in a talk she gave to kick off the annual Farm Sanctuary hoedown in Watkins Glen, New York.

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“I Am Not an Animal”

This project explores how the psychological dynamics of our fear of death shape our relationships with other animals, leading to our need to claim superiority over them in ways that are often exploitative and abusive.

Despite the enormous growth of the animal protection movement over the last 50 years, the situation for animals in almost every area has deteriorated.* Numerous approaches and strategies have been tried, but advances have been marginal, and have been outweighed by enormous setbacks. For instance, we are currently facing mass extinctions, more vivisection, and more factory farming on a global scale. Clearly something is being overlooked in seeking better protection for nonhuman animals.

We claim that these dynamics have to be understood in order for humans to enter into a healthier and more respectful relationship with the other animals.

In 1973 cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker published his Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Denial of Death. Becker’s central thesis was that when we humans are reminded of our own mortality (even unconsciously), we tend to deny our mortal animal nature and any equality with the rest of the animal world. Instead, we are driven to claim superiority and human exceptionalism in an attempt to transcend our mortality.

Scientific studies on Terror Management Theory (how we deal with the anxiety of mortality awareness) show that reminders of our own mortality create a strong psychological need to proclaim that “I am not an animal” and, thus, drive the need to dominate, exploit and abuse other animals.

In accordance with our mission to apply science to animal advocacy, these findings will provide opportunities for deeper glimpses into our relationships with other animals and help us to determine how animal protection efforts and messaging might be made more effective.

A new theoretical paper on denial of death and our relationship with the other animals will be published in the journal Anthrozoos in November/December, 2014.


Marino L. and Mountain M. (in press). Denial of Death and the Relationship between Humans and Other Animals. Anthrozoos.

Marino, L. and Mountain, M. The Denial of Death and Our Relationship with Nonhuman Animals. Personhood Beyond the Human. Conference sponsored by the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, Yale University, New Haven, CT. (December 2013)

Marino, L. and Mountain, M. The Denial of Death and Our Relationship with the Other Animals. Ernest Becker Foundation Meeting, Seattle, Washington (October, 2012).

* Note: One major exception in this negative trend is for homeless pets in most Western countries. But this a classic “exception that proves the rule” in terms of how we relate to companion animals compared to other species.

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The Los Angeles Zoo Elephant Case

Kimmela Executive Director Dr. Lori Marino served as an expert witness in the recent case of Leider vs. Los Angeles Zoo, brought originally by the late actor Robert Culp and businessman Aaron Leider. The legal team, led by David Casselman, set out to demonstrate that the three Indian elephants at the L.A. zoo (Billy, Tina and Jewel) were unhealthy and neglected and should be sent to an elephant sanctuary where their needs could be met.

Dr. Marino testified about the intelligence, brain complexity, and self-awareness of elephants, and the meaning of stress-related behavioral anomalies exhibited by captive animals. After a weeklong hearing, Judge John L. Segal ruled against the L.A. Zoo in an unprecedented indictment of the zoo industry. He stated:

“Captivity is a terrible existence for any intelligent, self-aware species. To believe otherwise, as some high-ranking zoo employees appear to believe, is delusional.”

The judge put several welfare remedies in place, and no other case of this kind has come closer to the goal of freeing the animals. Even so, he had to stop short of closing the exhibit and sending the three elephants to a sanctuary. This was primarily because the elephants remain the “property” of the zoo and have no rights of their own. So the judge could only have confiscated the property of the zoo if the elephants had been actively and severely abused.

Legal efforts continue for the elephants at the Los Angeles Zoo. And this case, as successful as it was, illustrates why Kimmela is working with groups attempting to change the legal status of nonhuman animals so that they enjoy the same basic rights as humans do. One of those is the Nonhuman Rights Project.

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The Nonhuman Rights Project

Kimmela played a critical role in the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) litigation (currently under appeal) on behalf of four captive chimpanzees in New York State in 2013.

The NhRP, led by prominent animal rights attorney Steven Wise, is working to change the common law status of large-brained, socially complex nonhuman animals from legal “things” or “property” to “persons” with certain fundamental rights like the right to bodily liberty and bodily integrity.

In presenting such a case to a court, arguments must be based on a solid foundation of scientific evidence for cognitive and emotional abilities – evidence that clearly demonstrates an animal’s eligibility for common law personhood.

Kimmela is uniquely positioned to provide the kind of scientific information and weight of expertise for the NhRP and other legal efforts.

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