School navigation

Center for Animal Law Studies

CALS Alum, Jim Karani Riungu (‘16) Featured Expert On Elephants In Captivity

September 12, 2019

  • Jim Karani (r) and Zimbabwean environmental lawyer, Lenin Chisaira.

On September 6, 2019, elephant specialists from Kenya, the Netherlands, South Africa, the United States, and Zimbabwe gathered in South Africa at a conference sponsored by the EMS Foundation to discuss a framework and policy guidelines relating to elephants in capacity. Among the experts at the “Taking the Elephant Out of the Room” conference was Center of Animal Law Studies (CALS) alumni, Jim Karani Riungu (’16) of WildLife Direct in Kenya.

In his presentation, Jim said, asking the question made famous by Philosopher Jeremy Bentham, that the important question relating to elephants in captivity is not “can animals reason or talk, but can they suffer?” With that framework in mind, Jim made the case that elephants should not be kept in captivity, with the following key points: 

  • “There’s a body of research that proves there’s no conservation-education value to the use of elephants in zoos,” he said. “They are miserable and tell us nothing. Their only use is to take a selfie and walk away.
  • “The law has a duty to protect all sentient beings and in zoos there are serious welfare concerns about the treatment of non-human persons. An animal has a right of protection against needless pain and suffering.
  • “Confining and isolating an elephant is not the way to treat a sentient being. They’re not merely property. They should be granted rights as legal non-human persons, as corporations are.”

Following the conference, Jim’s contribution to the discussion was featured in an article that covered the topic. Jim’s full presentation is also available on YouTube. For more about Jim, please visit his full bio.

Thank you Jim for lending your animal law expertise to this important discussion and your continued advocacy on behalf of elephants.