The Rachel Carson Prize is awarded annually to the best article by an early career researcher in People and Nature.

We are delighted to announce that the winner of the 2020 Rachel Carson Prize is Tristan Derham, University of Tasmania, for his Research Article Elephants as refugees.

Tristan Derham, University of Tasmania.

Many authors have described displaced animals as refugees. In this research Tristan Derham and Freya Mathews tested whether there were solid ethical and ontological reasons for that claim. They found that if one follows the criteria laid out in the Refugee Convention then some African elephants are refugees, at least in a moral sense. Tristan said: “Roughly speaking, some elephants have been displaced from their countries by persecution and are too fearful (or physically unable) to return to the protection of their countries. Describing the situation of those animals in terms of refugeehood is a different approach to animal ethics, which usually focusses on rights or welfare. Perhaps seeing animals in this way opens doors to new kinds of policy for them, and more action on the ground.”

As well as the Research Article, you can read more about the study in the authors’ plain language summary Animal refugees.

Lead Editor, Robert Fish said:

“I became a lead editor on People and Nature because I wanted to be part of a journal that disrupts, as well as explores, our assumptions about the categories of ‘people’ and ‘nature’.  Elephants as refugees is a paper that embodies the spirit of what I imagined our journal to be. Thought-provoking, topical and eye-catching! A worthy winner. One of our early greatest hits.”

Associate Editor, Clare Palmer said:

“‘Elephants as Refugees’ is the kind of paper every editor hopes to receive. It offers an original approach to a pressing, real-world issue: the displacement of threatened elephants. It’s clearly and engagingly written, accessible to a wide audience.  And it challenges readers to think about how a familiar categorization – the “refugee” – might apply in a very unfamiliar context – African elephants. It’s a perfect fit for People and Nature, not just because relationships between people and nature are at the heart of the paper, but also because by arguing that displaced elephants are, in a moral sense, like human refugees, it forces a rethink of the very distinction between people and nature.”

Clare has also written a blog post about this article Can wild animals – like elephants – be refugees?

Tristan Derham grew up in rural Western Australia. His love of ecology took him around that state, working as an environmental consultant on impact assessments for remote mine sites. He is currently completing a PhD at the University of Tasmania, a project which combines both ethical and quantitative approaches to questions about rewilding – what wildness is, what sets rewilding apart from other environmental practices and what rewilding might look like in an Australian context. His academic interests lie at the nexus of environmental philosophy, animal ethics and ecology.

Virtual Issue brings together the winning and shortlisted papers for the 2020 Rachel Carson Prize. Plain language summaries written by the authors and other blog posts about the winning and shortlisted papers can be found here.

Find out about the winning and shortlisted papers for all of the other BES Journal Early Career Researcher Prizes.