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How can non-biologists contribute to wild animal welfare?

by evelynciara1 min read17th Feb 20219 comments

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Welfare biologyEffective animal advocacyPublic interest technologyWild animal welfare
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I'm interested in wild animal welfare as one of many potentially top-priority causes. Currently, the field seems immature: we know very little about how to improve wild animal welfare, so the best thing that anyone can do right now is do research on welfare biology. But I'm not a biologist, so I can't really contribute to welfare bio (although I'm a computer scientist with some exposure to comp bio, so I could contribute to "computational welfare bio"). In general, how can non-biologists contribute to the wild animal welfare cause?

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I work at Wild Animal Initiative. Lack of funding is a major constraint on the movement right now, so donating is a great way to make an impact. The main organizations working on wild animal welfare currently are Wild Animal Initiative, Rethink Priorities, and Animal Ethics.

If you're moved to pursue a career in wild animal welfare research, a computer science background may be more useful than you think. Your experience could be the foundation for a graduate degree in bioinformatics, population ecology, evolutionary biology, or climate science, for example. Computer scientists could contribute to the field by improving wildlife monitoring technology, making code-heavy data analysis tools more accessible, or developing tools for organizing and sharing research about wild animal welfare.

Whatever you end up doing, it's great that you're interested in helping wild animals. If you want to chat more about how you can apply your talents to this cause area, feel free to reach out!

I appreciate your comment! I'll reach out to you.

At a risk of telling you something you already know, you could donate to the Wild Animal Initiative, a charity working to build the academic field of wild animal welfare. WAI is a top charity according to Animal Charity Evaluators.

You can also spread the word about the problem and try to contribute to expanding humanity's moral circle.

I'm sure there are some useful things a computer scientist can do to reduce wild animal suffering, but I'm not the person to advise on that. On a slightly tenuous note, it seems possible that working on AI alignment could be good for wild animals in the long-run, as a superintelligent AI could help us reduce wild animal suffering.

Probably not the answers you were looking for, but hopefully this wasn't completely useless!

On an even more tenuous note, as a computer scientist you may be well-placed to help build an artificial sentience movement. I admit this might seem a bit random for me to have brought up, but if you care about wild animal suffering you may also care about the the possibility of artificial sentience suffering in the future, which is a realistic scenario. There may be clearer ways for a computer scientist to get involved in artificial sentience than wild animal suffering. I also happen to know that there are some discussions being held within EA about kicks... (read more)

I hosted a podcast episode substantially (not exclusively) about this question! https://www.sentienceinstitute.org/podcast/episode-13.html

Main categories of possible actions discussed:

  • fund Animal Ethics or Wild Animal Initiative. They're massively underfunded.
  • spread the word, especially to audiences that seem likely to be receptive to the idea.
  • get a career in an area that might help, like in policy.

As someone who did an undergraduate degree in biology, I think that as a computer scientist you probably already have many of the skills that you'd need to contribute to biology research directly. Welfare bio is a very new field so getting on top of the literature would likely not be too tricky, and most biologists would not have an in depth understanding of that particular sub-field anyway. There may be systematic reviews or modelling studies that you could contribute to, or you could look for existing datasets that could be reanalysed through a welfare bio 'lens'. 

In general I think it's much easier to go from comp-sci/ maths/something quantitative to bio than the other way around, as bio is not particularly 'linear' (i.e. there isn't necessarily a base of knowledge that everyone has and builds on over time). 

Also not CS and you may already know it: this EAG talk is about wild animal welfare research using economics techniques. Both authors of the paper discussed are economists, not biologists.

Nope, I haven't seen this yet. Thanks for the link!

Legal Priorities Project's Research Agenda has a brief discussion of how lawyers may be able to contribute to this space:

How can existing conservation laws, such as the American Endangered Species Act or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (“CITES”), be used or amended in ways that account for not just population survival, but individual animals’ welfare? How might such protections extend to wild animals that are not endangered or threatened?

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