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Cross-posted from the Wild Animal Initiative blog (original here).

Wild Animal Initiative — Six Month Progress Update

In January of 2019, two groups working on studying wild animal welfare elected to merge—Wild-Animal Suffering Research and Utility Farm became Wild Animal Initiative.

Wild Animal Initiative was founded with the mission of raising awareness, researching, and reducing the suffering of wild animals. We are an effective altruist organization that practices full transparency of our financials and operations. Our current priorities are to establish an academic field of welfare biology, and to research interventions to improve the welfare of wild animals in the near future. Our research consists of secondary studies on wild animal welfare: we review literature, develop models for conceptualizing welfare, and study the cost-effectiveness of near-term interventions.

With the intent of improving our ability to conduct effective academic outreach, we recently completed an extensive Executive Director search, and have selected Michelle Graham for the position. We are also excited to have increased the academic expertise of our team—our research staff now consists of incredibly talented biologists and conservationists, and we believe that together, they represent the largest group of domain experts ever assembled to work on improving wild animal welfare.

However, as a growing nonprofit, we continue to look to the effective altruist community for support. We estimate that our staff’s work is around one-half the hours dedicated to these issues globally, which demonstrates the degree of its neglectedness. To that end, this summer we are raising $50,000 to continue our work. Please continue to follow our progress, and donate today to help us reach this goal.

Research Updates

Humane insecticides

We’ve compiled a database of 255 commonly used insecticides, and after an extensive review of the literature on pain and sentience in insects, are currently reviewing the mechanism by which each of these insecticides kill. We are also evaluating the relative painfulness of each, or at a minimum identifying where further research is needed to understand what insecticides might be the least painful.

Academic submissions

Continuing work started by Animal Ethics and Wild-Animal Suffering Research, we’ve submitted or sponsored the submission of two welfare biology papers to prominent journals. We hope to see both published in the next year. One is a model for understanding how age-specific mortality in wild animals relates to welfare, and the other is a systematic review of the literature on the effectiveness of different methods for controlling marine mammal predator populations.

Cause-specific and prioritization research

We are conducting foundational research for wild animal welfare work. This year, we expect to publish three major research projects in this area: a classification model to help clarify how we think about interventions, a review of prioritization literature to help us understand what early projects are most urgent, and research into the resilience of interventions and how we should make tradeoffs between resilience, reversibility, and cost-effectiveness.

Conservation literature reviews

The conservation literature contains a wealth of relevant research for understanding wild animal welfare and nontarget effects of interventions. We released a review of a major conservation intervention evidence database, which we believe to be extremely relevant to wild animal welfare work. We are currently reviewing tools used to predict the downstream effects of conservation projects, commonly used by researchers in the fields of restoration and predictive ecology, and studying how these approaches might be applied to welfare-relevant work. We are also conducting a systematic review of the literature on conservation physiology to understand how conservation approaches and values are changing in light of permanent anthropogenic effects on ecosystems.

Other research

We are currently running a year-long field study of the effectiveness of adoption-level advocacy. We are also completing research projects on how public policy on genetic engineering might be expected to affect wild animals and how to communicate wild animal welfare topics to different audiences.

Academic outreach updates

After changing strategies on academic outreach, we’ve made significantly more progress in building an academic field of welfare biology. Although we consider our two recent journal submissions to be part of our outreach, we’ve also been working with an early career researcher to secure funding for the first welfare biology lab. If we are successful, the lab will study the impact of diseases on wild animal welfare. We also continue to attend conferences, speak with academics, and look for further funding opportunities to grow this burgeoning field. We plan on sponsoring workshops at future conferences to continue engaging academic communities on these issues, and have started outreach to graduate students in conservation programs.

Other updates

Our general outreach has continued with the launch of our podcast, Wildness, whose first two episodes have had over 1,200 listens. Although we don’t expect to put significant resources into general outreach in the near future, we are pleased with how well the podcast has been received, and plan to continue the project for at least two more episodes.

At EA Global, we spoke at three events, including hosting a meetup on wild animal welfare, presenting a talk, and discussing an academic paper regarding a model of wild animal welfare. The following week, we hosted the second Wild Animal Welfare Summit, an event that brings together researchers, funders, and organizations working in this field to prioritize and collaborate on shared interests and community goals.

We need your support

None of this work could happen without the support of the EA community. We are a 501(c)3 nonprofit with a modest budget. Our organization operates on the principle of being as cost-effective as possible. The reality is that there are an incomprehensibly large number of wild animals, and an incredible number of ways to reduce wild animal suffering. Yet there only a few individuals globally working on improving the welfare of wild animals. Support our work by signing up as a monthly donor—with $50,000 raised this summer, we can expand our research and outreach programs, and continue this important project.





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I'm particularly excited about the paper submissions and the increased academic expertise of your staff. That seems very important in getting this work taken more seriously.

I'm so impressed and excited by all that you are up to, and I'm really glad about the Executive Director decision. Keep up the good work.