University Of Tasmania
152760 - Elephants as refugees.pdf (523.6 kB)
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Elephants as refugees

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-21, 12:46 authored by Tristan DerhamTristan Derham, Mathews, F
  1. Habitat loss and climate change are displacing animals at alarming rates. In response, authors in the humanities and the sciences have described animals rhetorically as 'refugees'. Such a description implies a strong call to action.
  2. However, the term 'refugee' may serve as more than mere rhetoric, indicating in a more literal way the response most proper to some persecuted, traumatized and displaced animals, and prioritizing those animals.
  3. We test the claim that animals can be refugees using widely accepted criteria in the Refugee Convention. If refugees are those who, due to a well‐founded fear of persecution for reasons of their group identity, are unwilling or unable to avail themselves of the protection of their country, then some animals may be refugees. Recent behavioural research on African elephants Loxodonta africana demonstrates that many elephants meet the criteria, even without recourse to the claim that they are persons.
  4. We outline the essential requirements of an animal refugee policy. We find that current biodiversity conservation policy is likely inadequate to provide for animal refugees, although important lessons can be taken from the collective experience of conservation scientists and managers.
  5. An obligation to animal refugees poses new challenges, both theoretical and practical, for ecological restoration, conservation and human-animal relations.


Publication title

People and Nature






School of Natural Sciences


John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Place of publication

United Kingdom

Rights statement

© 2020 The Authors. People and Nature published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British Ecological Society. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License, ( which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly sited.

Repository Status

  • Open

Socio-economic Objectives

Expanding knowledge in the biological sciences