Blog

Announcing Wild Animal Initiative

Today, we are pleased to announce that Wild-Animal Suffering Research (WASR) and Utility Farm (UF) are merging together to form a new organization focused solely on wild animal welfare — Wild Animal Initiative. Over the last year, we (Wild-Animal Suffering Research and Utility Farm) have become increasingly aware that our work overlaps significantly, and that…

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Biannual Project Evaluation - T2, 2018

Today, we are pleased to announce that Wild-Animal Suffering Research (WASR) and Utility Farm (UF) are merging together to form a new organization focused solely on wild animal welfare — Wild Animal Initiative. Over the last year, we (Wild-Animal Suffering Research and Utility Farm) have become increasingly aware that our work overlaps significantly, and that our values are well aligned. Because of this, a merger seemed like the natural next step for our organizations. We drafted a merger plan, sought feedback from our teams and external members of the EAA community and our respective Boards. All were broadly supportive of our decision. This new organization will be better suited to coordinate research and academic outreach, and incorporates lessons that have […]

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Biannual Project Evaluation - T1, 2018

Summary This evaluation looks at our progress during the second six months (“T2”) of 2018 and assesses the extent to which our activities have allowed us to make progress towards our strategic goals. As our team worked very few hours during this evaluation period, this document is considerably briefer than our previous evaluation. This evaluation does not include our plans for 2019 as these are still being developed. We hope to release these in a separate post in the coming weeks. In our T1, 2018 evaluation we wrote: “Our priorities for T2, 2018 include: (1) continuing our research, (2) finalising the first round of our academic outreach project, (3) running a grants competition, and (4) establishing better people management structures.” […]

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Clean Your Bird Feeders

Summary This is the first evaluation report for the Wild-Animal Suffering Project. This evaluation looks at our progress during the first six months (“T1”) of 2018 and assesses the extent to which our activities have allowed us to make progress towards our strategic goals. It also includes our most significant mistakes and issues as well as our priorities for the second six months (“T2”) of 2018. Our main accomplishments include: Completing three research papers and six blog posts. Launching Round One of our academic outreach work. We engaged with six academics and two research institutes. Giving six talks and one interview for a podcast. Our challenges include: (1) failing to develop a strong people management structure, (2) underestimating the necessary […]

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Wild Animals: A Rights-Based Approach

Between one-third and three-fourths of Anglosphere households, depending on the study, sometimes feed wild birds (Jones & James Reynolds, 2008, p. 2). Some people feed birds for the educational value or because of the pleasure they get from viewing them; others feel empathy for the birds or want to make up for the suffering humans have caused birds by destroying their habitats. None of them want to hurt birds. But bird feeding, done improperly, can spread serious diseases. Studies show that backyard bird feeding may lead to disease transmission (Jones & James Reynolds, 2008; Robb, McDonald, Chamberlain, & Bearhop, 2008, p. 481). Over two years of a study, fed birds were more likely to experience transmissible diseases than unfed birds […]

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How Pet Owners Can Help Wild Animals And The Environment

This is the first of a series of posts exploring how different ethical systems affect how people should react to wild-animal suffering. The employees of Wild-Animal Suffering Research follow a variety of different ethical systems, and WASR as a whole does not have a position on which philosophical system is right; nothing in this post should be taken as an endorsement. Introduction to Regan’s Rights-Based Approach Tom Regan, one of the most famous philosophers of animal rights, articulates a rights-based approach to animal rights in his classic The Case for Animal Rights. Although Regan’s rights-based approach is usually understood as being totally noninterventionist with regards to wild animals, in reality his viewpoint implies that we should intervene in nature to […]

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Online Q&A - April 2018

Many people talk about wild-animal suffering as if it is completely intractable, or as if it is inherently opposed to environmental conservation, or as if it’s impossible to know what effects our actions could possibly have on wild animals. But, in fact, there is one simple action any cat or dog owner can do to help wildlife and the environment at the same time: keep their animals inside. (My statistics here come from this excellent review. See also Utility Farm’s excellent blog post on a similar topic.) Both cats and dogs are predators, and their largest effect on wildlife is through predation. Most studies suggest cats primarily hunt mammals and birds, taxa which are generally considered to be moral patients. […]

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Some Crucial Considerations for WAS

In mid-April, we ran our first online Q&A. The goal was to give our audience an opportunity to ask questions they had about our work, strategy, plans and mission. Thanks to everyone who participated. We received many interesting and incisive questions! Our responses are below. What’s the most interesting stuff you’ve worked on this year, or the most interesting material “in the pipeline”? Ozy has a very interesting paper about wildlife contraception coming out soon, and has recently finished a paper on the effects of supplemental feeding on wild animal welfare (to be published in the next few weeks). Encouraging more research into and use of wildlife contraception is plausibly one of the most cost-effective ways to help wild mammals […]

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Reducing Aquatic Noise To Help Fish

A “crucial consideration”– a term invented by Nick Bostrom— is a piece of evidence that radically changes the value of pursuing a particular intervention or focus area. For example, if a particular piece of technology is scientifically impossible, it’s not very effective to pursue developing it anyway; if animals are not moral patients, then it doesn’t make sense to advocate against factory farming. Since so little is known about how to best pursue wild-animal welfare, there are a lot of crucial considerations, and having different opinions on them may radically change what interventions you support and how cost-effective the interventions are. This is a summary of some crucial considerations that effective altruists reasonably disagree on, but does not try to […]

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Are seafood substitutes good for wild fish?

Disclaimer: I came across this issue while researching a recent paper. I think it is interesting, but do not think the evidence is solid enough to prioritize this as an intervention yet. The level of low-frequency ambient noise in the open ocean has doubled every decade since the 1950s; this increase in noise levels is primarily anthropogenic, associated with transportation, development, and resource extraction. Freshwater and estuarine noise levels have also increased in the past seventy years, perhaps even more sharply, because freshwater and estuarine habitats are closer to humans. Most anthropogenic noise is noise pollution, because it doesn’t provide any useful information to wild animals, but may cause them stress or make it more difficult to hear useful information. […]

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Our Room For More Funding - 2018

Summary I conducted preliminary research into the effects of seafood substitute products on reducing the suffering of wild sea animals. This was suggested by Scott Weathers, who is considering launching a clean meat start-up. Seafood replacements products (which include plant-based products or those made from cell culture) are gaining popularity and traction across the world. Fish, meanwhile, are the most numerous vertebrates killed by humans. Between one and three trillion wild fish, and 40-120 billion farmed fish, are slaughtered each year. If more people eat seafood substitutes, will wild animals suffer more or less? There are numerous considerations here from: the quality of wild fish lives; the effects on wild animal populations; the replacement of fish consumption; the quality of […]

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Our Plans for 2018

Donate to our fundraiser Finances Total expenditure for the Wild-Animal Suffering Research project in 2017 was: $21,592 USD For 2017, our only expenses were staff salaries. Operations and IT expenses were covered by the Effective Altruism Foundation (EAF). Between 1 May 2017 – 30 November 2017 the project spent: $18,893. Based on our monthly average, we can expect an additional $2699 to be spent in December. As of 1 December 2017 we received the following revenue (all amounts are in USD): $30,000 grant from EA Funds. $6400 grant from the ACE Animal Advocacy Research Fund. $11,652 USD in individual donations. Our roll-over amount for 2018 is: $26,460. Room for more funding We estimate we can use up to $161,205 for […]

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2017 Retrospective

The Wild-Animal Suffering Research (WASR) project is fundraising for 2018. This post outlines our plans for next year. If you’d like to support our work, help us fill our room for more funding. Donate to our fundraiser Summary Wild animals suffer on an immense scale, we don’t yet have solutions to this suffering and very few people are concerned. Our mission is to find a path to reduce the suffering experienced by nonhuman animals in nature. We launched our project in June 2017 with a team of three researchers working part-time on strategy, communications, outreach and research. In the last six months we are pleased to say that the reception to our work has been extremely positive. Although we are […]

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Ozy Brennan's Research Plan

Background Wild-Animal Suffering Research (WASR) launched as a project supported by the Effective Altruism Foundation (EAF) in June 2017. We are a team of three part-time researchers conducting multidisciplinary research to learn more about the problem of wild-animal suffering. Our hope is that a comprehensive understanding of the cause area will allow us to make progress towards determining the tractability of wild-animal suffering. We are currently funded by a $30,000 grant from Effective Altruism Funds – Animal Welfare. Progress Research Agenda We released a comprehensive research agenda identifying promising areas of research to both better understand wild-animal suffering and identify viable solutions to it. Each researcher released an individual research plan highlighting their focus for the next 12 – 24 […]

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Persis Eskander's Research Plan

Introduction In the next two to three years, I intend to write a series of papers summarizing the evidence about a handful of broad areas of intervention into wild-animal suffering: what are the benefits; what are the costs; what is the sign of the intervention; and what still needs to be explored. Assumptions Behind This Research Proposal I think finding a tractable intervention is potentially the most important thing we could be doing as wild-animal suffering researchers. Wild animal suffering is, of course, urgent: each day a cost-effective intervention goes undiscovered, wild animals suffer and die. It’s also important to get people to care about wild animal suffering for both short-term reasons (expanding research into wild-animal suffering) and long-term reasons […]

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Georgia Ray's Research Plan

Introduction Wild-animal suffering is a problem of immense proportions. Unfortunately, we do not currently have viable large-scale solutions to it. For many, the absence of clear solutions means we shouldn’t be investing time in working on the problem. A very common objection to wild-animal suffering as a cause area is that intervening in nature with net positive outcomes is impractical: since we don’t fully understand the complexity and fragility of ecosystems, interventions will have unexpected or unintended negative effects. I’m of the view that rather than suggesting that we can’t do anything about wild-animal suffering, this objection suggests that we just don’t know enough about the problem nor what possible solutions might look like. Our lack of information keeps the […]

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Creating Welfare Biology: A Research Proposal

Introduction My personal interest in wild-animal suffering (WAS) research, and in spreading knowledge about WAS, is mostly in assessing existing wild-animal suffering – wild animal experiences, quantifying the amount and severity of suffering, and capacity to suffer. I believe that in order to assess where we should focus our concern, and what kinds of effective suffering-reducing actions we could take, answers to these basic research questions are critical. They’re also in short supply. For instance, I think that for most people introduced to WAS, the main source of doubt – past simply the oddness of the idea and whether or not humans are responsible for intervening – is if common animals are capable of suffering, and if wild animals truly […]

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Infant Mortality and the Argument from Life History

Cross-posted from Ozy Brennan’s personal website with minor edits. Note: This idea came out of the 2017 Research Workshop on Effective Animal Adovcacy organised by ACE. I would like to thank Zach Groff and Mark Budolfson for brainstorming this idea with me, as well as ACE for offering me the opportunity to think of it. Many people in the wild-animal suffering space think it would be a good idea to make a discipline of “welfare biology”– that is, the scientific study of wild animal welfare, the way that animal welfare studies scientifically studies domestic animal welfare. From my perspective, there are two big benefits to creating welfare biology. First, it would probably increase the number of research dollars that go to wild-animal […]

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We Have No Idea If There Are Cost-Effective Interventions Into Wild-Animal Suffering

Cross-posted from Ozy Brennan’s personal website  Many people argue that suffering predominates in nature. A really simple form of the argument, supported by people like Brian Tomasik, is what one might call the argument from life history. In general, in most species, females produce many more offspring than can survive to adulthood; in some cases, a female may produce thousands or millions of offspring in a single reproductive season. Therefore, one can assume that most animals die before they are able to reproduce. In many cases, the offspring die before they can reasonably be considered conscious (for instance, an egg is eaten shortly after laying). However, even if half of animals die unconscious, the other half are a large source of disutility. […]

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Introducing the Wild-Animal Suffering Research Project

Cross-posted from Ozy Brennan’s personal website with minor edits. I sometimes see people claiming very confidently that wild-animal welfare is completely intractable and there are no cost-effective interventions we can do to improve wild animals’ welfare. (Exact implications of this claim generally depend on the speakers’ values.) This is honestly a quite extraordinarily claim. Think of all the ways human beings affect wild animals already: bird feeders, wildlife tourism, hunting, pest control, failing to adequately secure our dumpsters, disease control, air and water pollution, climate change, outdoor pets, invasive species, and so on and so forth. Are you telling me that there is not literally one of the dozens of ways we affect wild animals that has a knowable positive or negative effect on them? Perhaps […]

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