We have received some questions about our November 2020 recommendation of Wild Animal Initiative (WAI) as a Top Charity, which stem from the fact that historically, we have only granted that status to charities that primarily work on farmed animal issues. We hope that this post will address any confusion about our decision.

Why Wild Animal Welfare in Addition to Farmed Animal Welfare?

Most of our research, research we have funded, and resources we provide advocates have been related to helping farmed animals. We consider addressing the suffering caused by industrial animal agriculture to be a high-impact cause area based on the scale, tractability, and neglectedness framework:

  • Scale: We estimate that the total number of vertebrates killed for human consumption in the world in 2018 was about 772 billion.
  • Tractability: Organizations and individual advocates around the world have been making progress for farmed animals—for example, see Open Philanthropy’s “Seven Big Wins for Farm Animals in 2020.”
  • Neglectedness: Although we’ve seen an increase in resources going to farmed animal advocacy in the last decade or so, a much greater portion of animal advocacy resources is still going toward causes involving many fewer animals (e.g., companion animals in shelters and animals used for research in labs).

As early as 2015, ACE has included reducing wild animal suffering as a high-priority cause area based on the same framework:

  • Scale: We estimate that there are about 300 times as many vertebrate wild animals (1013) as there are farmed animals. If we give some credence to invertebrates’ sentience or capacity to suffer, the number of wild animals we should be concerned about is much higher.
  • Tractability: It is not currently possible for us to have a good sense of the tractability of work to improve wild animal welfare because the field is still in its infancy. However, WAI suggests three possible approaches that seem likely to be tractable in the future: (i) make existing interactions more humane, (ii) reduce disease, and (iii) provide better habitat. Humans are already addressing some wild animal welfare concerns, especially where those concerns intersect with risks to humans. For example, oral vaccines were used to successfully eradicate rabies in most of Europe, and deer populations are sometimes controlled with an immunocontraception vaccine.
    • See the section, “What can we do to improve the well-being of wild animals?” on WAI’s FAQ page for more information.
  • Neglectedness: We know of very few organizations putting any resources into improving wild animal welfare, and while there are a greater number of resources going to conservation efforts, work in that area typically does not prioritize individual animals’ welfare over the preservation of natural habitats and certain species.

The case for addressing wild animal suffering has been made by prominent economists, philosophers, and effective altruists. ACE has also hosted blog posts (2015, 2018, 2019), conducted research, and funded research on the topic. However, because wild animal welfare was—and still is—a relatively new field with very few organizations in the early stages of their development, it was only in the last several years, after seeing some progress being made, that we became more confident in supporting the cause area through our programs. We supported WAI with Movement Grants in November 2019 and July 2020, then we recommended them as a Top Charity in November 2020.

Wild Animal Initiative’s Strengths

Those interested in a fuller picture of our thoughts on WAI should read our comprehensive review, but we share some highlights here.

Programs and Cost Effectiveness

WAI is working to create a new academic field dedicated to wild animal welfare. Thus far, their work consists of compiling literature reviews and writing theoretical and opinion articles published on their website and/or in peer-reviewed journals. WAI focuses on identifying and sharing possible research avenues and connecting with more established fields. WAI also works with researchers from various academic and non-academic institutions to identify potential collaborators. Before our evaluation, they launched a new program that helps researchers develop proposals and submit them to funders WAI has identified as promising.

We believe that building an academic field on wild animal welfare is an ambitious but promising avenue for creating change for wild animals in the long term, and charities’ long-term impact is plausibly what matters most. Additionally, their work seems slightly higher than the average cost effectiveness of other charities’ work toward strengthening the animal advocacy movement, compared to the groups we evaluated in 2020.

Room for More Funding

We believe that WAI’s room for more funding relative to the size of their organization is of larger size compared to the other charities we evaluated in 2020. We also believe that their absolute room for more funding is of larger size relative to the funding we influence through our recommendations.

Leadership and Culture

We collect information about each charity’s internal operations in several ways. We ask leadership to describe the culture they try to foster, as well as potential areas for improvement. We review each charity’s human resource (HR) policies and check that they include those we believe are important. We also send a culture survey to the staff of each charity.

At the time of our evaluation, WAI had all but one of the HR policies we checked for, and they were working on the remaining one. All staff respondents to our culture survey agreed that WAI’s leadership is attentive to the organization’s strategy, and the responses indicated that WAI’s culture is overall positive. WAI has an overall level of employee engagement higher than the average of charities under review in 2020. They support representation/diversity, equity, and inclusion through their human resource activities, and all respondents to our survey agreed that WAI protects staff, interns, and volunteers from harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

Strategy and Adaptability

WAI’s strategic planning process seems appropriate, and the resulting plan is thorough. Their goal-setting process is particularly well-designed, and they monitor progress on their goals frequently.

WAI shared a few examples of how they’ve adapted to successes and failures, including recognizing and addressing the need to communicate with organizations working in a similar area so as not to duplicate efforts, and ways they changed their plans in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Conclusion

WAI is working in an important and relatively neglected area: conducting and promoting research to help wild animals. We believe that building an academic field is a promising avenue for creating change for wild animals in the long term. There are few charities working in this area, and WAI’s strengths (some listed above) led us to conclude they seem to have a responsible and thorough approach to building a collaborative community of researchers and advocates, as well as a strong strategy and healthy organizational culture. While WAI, like all charities, also has weaknesses (described in the review), we find WAI to be an excellent giving opportunity because of their strong, cost-effective programs and their thorough strategy.

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