December is a pivotal time for us at Wild Animal Initiative. Our strategic direction for the next year is clearer than ever, but the question remains whether we can afford all that we hope to accomplish. After the end of giving season and the start of the new year, we can determine which projects we can afford and recalibrate our plans based on the funding we have received.
This article highlights some of the ways we plan to grow in 2022. Fortunately, we have already funded the continuation of our existing projects and the addition of new ones. The question now is how much progress we can make next year.
This is far from a complete list of our plans, and we will likely make changes as we continue to evaluate our strategy. But it’s a preview of our current thinking so you can share our excitement for what’s to come. If you think these plans hold promise for the future of wildlife welfare, please consider helping to make them possible.
Our grants program funds academic research on high priority wildlife welfare issues. We are grateful to Open Philanthropy for fully funding the first two years of the program (i.e. until mid-2023). At the same time as this provides for the growth plans below, it also increases our need for funding in the rest of our work, which is not eligible for funding from Open Philanthropy. The grant offering has helped us reach many more scientists than ever before, increasing the urgency to support them with our service program and guide strategy with our research program (see below for more details). information).
Calls for proposals
We plan to reallocate most of our current research funds through Calls for Proposals (CFPs) to important, overlooked and treatable areas of research in wildlife welfare. In July, we launched our first call for proposals, on the theme of the welfare and ecology of wild juveniles. Two hundred and ninety-seven research teams submitted expressions of interest, 50 reached the second round and ten will win grants to be announced in February 2022.
As broad as juvenile welfare is, it only offers answers to a small fraction of the questions about how to improve the lives of animals in the wild. This is why we are increasing our grants next year. By expanding our team and streamlining our processes, we hope to reach a point where we can issue calls on at least four topics each year, each representing a different branch of wildlife welfare science.
In addition to funding promising projects, we plan to support promising people. We are particularly interested in funding postdoctoral scientists, as they are at a critical stage in their career: they have the expertise to conduct high-quality research independently, and they are also at an opportune time to acquire new skills and trying new directions. By awarding postdoctoral fellowships, we aim to help our fellows develop the skills they need to pursue wildlife conservation work for the rest of their careers, while simultaneously helping them carry out an impactful conservation project. wild animals that would not be attractive to other donors.
A productive scientific career requires more than just research funding. Our Services Program exists to fill these gaps by meeting the other professional needs of researchers pursuing wildlife welfare research.
Wild Animal Initiative has always facilitated connections between scientists, and our planned networking database will greatly streamline the process. Scholars of all career stages and research disciplines will have the opportunity to join a members-only contact database where they can quickly find and be found by the specific type of person they wish to work with: collaborators researchers, thesis supervisors, peer reviewers, funders. , or even just thought partners.
When we ask scientists what keeps them from acting on their interest in wildlife welfare, one of the most common responses we get is “I don’t have the skills to do this kind of research. .” The inherently interdisciplinary nature of the field regularly attracts even highly qualified scientists outside their previous areas of expertise. In addition to facilitating collaboration through our networking database, we plan to provide educational resources to help researchers overcome key technical skill bottlenecks.
At its most basic, this would mean curating existing resources housed in various institutions and platforms. But with enough funding and human resources, we could develop our own manuals or online courses tailored specifically to wildlife welfare. For example, we often talk to PhD students who are uncomfortable with the effects of their research on the animals they study (such as the Executive Director Michelle Graham’s experience). We could address this need with a reference manual listing low-impact alternatives to common data collection techniques, a series of webinars exploring study designs that avoid or reduce the need for animal handling, and a workshop in person offering hands-on experience in the recommended techniques. field techniques.
Series of seminars and workshops
We plan to hold a series of virtual seminars and workshops in which guests will share their research and skills in wildlife welfare. The seminars will offer curious scientists an exceptionally easy way to engage in unusually detailed conversations about the latest developments in the field. The workshops will provide an opportunity for conservationists to learn about the science of animal welfare and learn techniques they can apply in their work. With more funding, we will be able to organize more events, attract top researchers and invest in more in-depth follow-up of participants.
We have many more wildlife welfare questions than any one team could answer on its own. This is why much of our work is focused on empowering other researchers rather than just doing research ourselves. But engaging and supporting these scientists requires a deep understanding of the subject itself, which is why we have a research agenda: to produce original research to guide our own priorities and invite deeper exploration of key questions.
To flesh out our next list of research priorities for the field, we’ll be writing a series of in-depth guides exploring selected areas. Each “deep dive” will showcase a topic’s relevance to understanding and improving the lives of wildlife, examine the current state of science, and outline promising next steps for researchers. They will be brief enough for non-experts to get up to speed quickly yet detailed enough for experts to know exactly which articles to read next or which researchers to contact about collaborations.
2022 will bring more in-person events and more sophisticated virtual conferences. We are especially looking forward to hosting collaborative sessions at international conferences that will give multiple speakers the opportunity to showcase their work in areas related to wildlife welfare. These opportunities will be particularly effective in reaching a diverse and inclusive network, generating discussions and encouraging people to follow us. We have already started work on two of these sessions: the first featuring presentations and discussions on how existing methods of wildlife contraception can be used in new ways to maximize welfare, and the second offering training for ecologists wishing to integrate wildlife welfare into their existing research. .
Although our work to date has focused on strengthening the field of natural sciences, we are increasingly optimistic about the potential of our research to inform law and policy. Advocates can work alongside scientists, building the institutional mechanisms and political will that will be needed to adopt the interventions that prove most effective. For example, government agencies currently required to consider animal welfare could develop more rigorous standards to accommodate the complexity of wildlife welfare.
To understand how our science could better inform law and policy, we launched a large project assessing potential avenues for advocacy and the actors best placed to take them forward. Thanks to an anonymous donor, the first phases of this research were fully funded. But we don’t yet know what additional research or outreach might be needed, or whether we’ll have funding to make the most of these findings in 2022.