The Kimmela Center in Action

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. For the past several years she has organized Scholar-Advocacy Sessions at Superpod meetings where young professionals and students highlight their work for the oceans and its animals.

See below for more on this project.

Working with Sentient Media to Promote Animal Advocacy through Writing: Kimmela Executive Director Lori Marino is offering mentorship in writing to young scholar-advocates for animals.

An important part of being a successful scholar-advocate is having the ability to communicate effectively, and Sentient Media’s primary mission is to increase public awareness of animal welfare and rights. Dr. Marino offers mentorship for young writers who want to be successful communicators for animal advocacy through journal papers, magazine articles, blogs and other forms of media.

Bringing Science to Animal Law:
The field of animal law has been rapidly expanding globally, and there are now academic programs across North America offering curricula in fields from litigation practices to legal philosophy to social justice to ethics.

Kimmela is participating in this growing field with the development of a course on Scientific Foundations of Animal Law and Policy with and for the academic animal law and policy community. The course will be offered in various formats to academic animal law programs. Our goal is to provide the foundational scientific knowledge that’s critical to successful law and policy efforts. This includes identifying and analyzing the most robust scientific evidence for animal law cases, working to produce the most effective amicus briefs and other supporting materials, and navigating the complexities of various scientific landscapes and controversies.


Past Key Projects

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.

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, Dr. Marino has 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.

Recently, she has published several peer-reviewed scientific papers on dolphin and whale brain anatomy, welfare in captivity, and behavior. She continues her work in this area in many domains. Some of her accomplishments over the past few years include:

  • Founding and becoming President of the Whale Sanctuary Project, whose mission is to create the first permanent sanctuary for captive orcas and belugas in North America (2016 – present);
  • Testimony in the Canadian Senate on behalf of Bill S-203, which passed in mid-2019 and bans the keeping and breeding of dolphins and whales for display in Canada (2017);
  • Publication of a major multi-authored peer-reviewed paper on the effects of chronic stress on captive orcas (2019);
  • Presentations at university symposia on captive dolphins and whales and on the Whale Sanctuary Project.

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The Someone Project

The Kimmela Center and Farm Sanctuary recently completed a unique long-term project aimed at using the scientific evidence for cognition, emotional and social complexity in farmed animals to demonstrate they are all someone – not something.

The Someone Project included the production of peer-reviewed scientific review papers and white papers, presentations at professional conferences, and a Call for Research Proposals. These materials continue to be used to promote an increased understanding, awareness of, and appreciation for the cognitive, behavioral, and emotional lives of farmed animals.

Kimmela will continue to bring to the world of farmed animal advocacy the same kind of scientific exploration, rigorous data and analysis it is known for in all of its projects.

Here is a compilation of Someone Project materials:

Thinking Pigs: A Comparative Review of Cognition, Emotion and Personality in Sus Domesticus.
Download the peer-reviewed paper.
Download the white paper.

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.

Intelligence, Complexity and Individuality in Sheep
Download the peer-reviewed paper.
Download the white paper.

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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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