NYU Launches Wild Animal Welfare Program

Work Will Fill Research and Policy Gap in a Field Largely Focused on Domesticated Animals

New York University has launched the Wild Animal Welfare Program, which will conduct research and host events that examine the impact of human activity and environmental change on the well-being of wild animals.

“The world contains a vast number and a wide diversity of wild animals,” says Becca Franks, a professor in NYU’s Department of Environmental Studies and co-director of the program. “Mammals, birds, fishes, molluscs, and many other animals live in complex, dynamic ecosystems. Human activity is increasingly impacting these ecosystems, along with all the animals within them. These realities raise important questions about wild animal welfare.”

“Most animal welfare research and policy focuses on domesticated animals, not wild animals,” adds Jeff Sebo, a professor in NYU’s Department of Environmental Studies and co-director of the program. “And most environmental research and policy focuses on species and ecosystems, not individuals. Yet the needs of individual wild animals are different from the needs of individual domesticated animals, as well as from the needs of species and ecosystems.”

Improving wild animal well-being, the co-directors observe, is difficult due, in part, to the complexity of natural systems and our limited knowledge. The NYU Wild Animal Welfare Program seeks to advance understanding about what wild animals are like, how humans and wild animals interact, and how humans can improve our interactions with wild animals.

In pursuing these aims, the program will conduct research in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences, as well as outreach to academics, advocates, policymakers, and the public. Its team will also include Arthur Caplan, director of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, and Danielle Spiegel-Feld, executive director of the Guarini Center on Environmental, Energy and Land Use Law at NYU School of Law.

“Trillions of wild animals suffer each year due to farming, fishing, deforestation, development, and other human activities, as well as rising temperatures, ocean acidification, extreme weather, ecosystem collapse, and other effects of human activities,” notes Sebo. “And of course, many wild animals also suffer due to illness, injury, and other natural causes, even when their habitats are well-preserved. Learning more about these issues will guide us toward policies that can be good for humans and wild animals at the same time.”

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