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Episode 576: Measuring Wild Animal Welfare ft. Michelle Graham

By Jasmin and Mariann — January 23, 2021

Michelle Graham joins the podcast today and we love this conversation! Michelle is the Executive Director of Wild Animal Initiative (WAI), where she focuses encouraging and facilitating research on wild animal welfare. We talk to Michelle about why we must focus on wild animal welfare, even when so many domesticated animals continue to suffer at the hands of humans. She also discusses the inherent problems in weighing welfare against beauty and how we must balance the trade-offs necessary to being responsible humans. Among the questions she examines in her work are how to ensure we are not doing more harm than good in the natural world as animal activists, and what steps researchers can take to develop and support safe interventions.

In addition to her work at WAI, Michelle is a Ph.D. student in engineering mechanics at Virginia Tech. Her research brings data together to tell the story of the jumping and gliding locomotion of flying snakes and their relatives, ultimately focusing on the physical requirements and different approaches to navigating their arboreal habitats. In addition to her research, Michelle, an avid vegan, has worked with animals in shelters, veterinary offices, farms, and zoos.

“I am not only a wild animal welfare advocate. I am not only an animal advocate. I am not only any one thing. I care about realizing the best possible world that we can achieve and that world does not have racism in it.”
– Michelle Graham

This Week in Our Hen House:

  • How to consider the perspectives of wild animals
  • The kinds of research that can show us how to better help wild animals
  • How we can extend whole species’ protections to individual wild animals
  • Whether extinction in and of itself is a problem
  • System-level consequences, what they are, and why the WAI is looking at long- and short-term research into them
  • Interventions that can be implemented right now to protect individual animals
  • What whitetail deer and pigeons have in common
  • How to develop safe interventions and avoid destructive ones, and the activities we can engage in to safely improve wild animal welfare
  • How Michelle’s Ph.D. in engineering mechanics relates to her animal advocacy work and how she reconciles her research with animal ethics principles
  • The link between welfare for wild animals and farmed animals and how advocates can learn from continued collaboration
  • Why Michelle is spearheading efforts of diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI) in the animal advocacy space
  • Effective altruism and how it relates to animal rights

Connect with Michelle Graham:

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This episode is brought to you in part through the generosity of A Well-Fed World. A Well-Fed World provides the means for change by empowering individuals, social justice organizations, and political decision makers to embrace the benefits of plant-based foods and farming. Learn more at


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Don’t forget to tune into Our Hen House’s other two podcasts: The Teaching Jasmin How to Cook Vegan Podcast, and The Animal Law Podcast.

The Our Hen House theme song is written and performed by Michael Harren.

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