John Hicks, 63, cofounder of Animal Activists, International Animal Rescue, and International Animal Rescue/Goa, “passed away earlier this week,” Federation of Indian Animal Welfare Societies spokesperson Varda Mehrotra e-mailed to FIAPO membership on February 27, 2015.
“All of us at FIAPO are saddened to hear of this,” Mehrotra continued. “Our thoughts are with Jo, his partner, and all of his beautiful animals who must undoubtedly be missing his familiar love and care.”
Born in England on April 27, 1951, Hicks at age 17, in 1968, joined the Royal Army Veterinary Corps. Initially Hicks trained dogs to detect explosives, including buried land mines, and to track suspicious persons in the vicinity of military bases. He later “Passed advanced veterinary exams including surgery,” according to a biography distributed to potential IAR/Goa funders in 2014, and “trained in the design and management of animal housing for a wide range of animals from rabbits to horses.”
Hicks’ military work with animals transitioned into animal advocacy, according to the 2014 bio, after he “stopped dogs being tattooed without local anesthetic,” and “visited a slaughterhouse during a meat inspection course,” as result of which he first became a vegetarian, and then “bought himself out of the army to become involved in animal welfare.”
Working first for the Animal Defense Society, and later for Compassion in World Farming, begun in 1967 by Hampshire dairy farmers Peter and Anna Roberts, Hicks in 1974 became chair of the Hunt Saboteurs Association.
Founded in 1963, the Hunt Saboteurs Association was the first of several generations of increasingly tactically aggressive British animal advocacy societies, and was the apparent inspiration for a fox hunt sabotage scene included in the 1964 Walt Disney film Mary Poppins, starring Julie Andrews. Hicks extended Hunt Saboteurs Association activities to include an attempt to disrupt sealing in the Orkney islands, off Scotland. The hunt ended in 1978, with Greenpeace, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and the Hunt Saboteurs Association all issuing victory claims.
John and his wife Jo Hicks meanwhile formed their own organization, Animal Activists, in 1975, later claiming to be the first to use the term “animal activists.”
The first on record was actually Susan Leeds, 20, who according to international media coverage “described herself as an ‘animal activist’” in April 1974 after being arrested as result of her a one-woman anti-fur protest at a store called Animals & Things on Fifth Avenue in New York City.
Like Leeds, John and Jo Hicks initially targeted fur stores, chaining themselves to racks of fur garments at the flagship Harrods store in London.
The furrier Swears & Wells reportedly blamed financial troubles on Animal Activists campaign activity, but recapitalized and remains in business.
Other Animal Activists’ campaigns targeted animal experimentation and the Crufts Dog show in London, “running on during the main event to complain about judges of the show breeding dogs for vivisection,” according to the 2014 John Hicks biography.
The Hicks bio claimed that Animal Activists also “Closed the Bampton Horse Fair where many horses were sold for vivisection or for meat.” In actuality the fair, granted a Royal Charter in 1258, continues to this day. Pony sales were suspended after 1985, but resumed under new rules meant to protect pony welfare in 2004.
John and Jo Hicks next took over the management of the Foal Farm Animal Rescue Centre, a 26-acre facility founded in 1960 at Biggin Hill in Kent. “The RSPCA were campaigning to close Foal Farm and launch a prosecution over the condition of the animals,” the John Hicks biography said. “In just six months there was a front page article in the Seven Oaks Chronicle congratulating John and Jo for the dramatic improvements made. In three years they carried out a massive rebuilding project, paid off debts, and left the charity with almost £125,000 in the bank.
“During this period,” the biography continued, “John was also a director of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection and the League Against Cruel Sports.”
For the latter, John Hicks in 1982 became Head of West Country Operations, refunding two-thirds of his salary to the League Against Cruelty Sports while managing 2,500 acres of wildlife reserves and documenting the activities of the local hunting clubs. Beaten many times by hunt supporters, Hicks eventually won the first High Court injunction ever granted against a British hunt club.
A series of bombings followed, initially attributed to animal advocates, which in in June 1990 wrecked two biomedical researchers’ cars and severely injured a 13-month-old boy. The attacks ended after South Somerset Hunting Preservation Group and British Hunting Exhibition founder John Newberry-Street, 51, confessed to setting up hoax bombings “to discredit the animal rights and Hunt Saboteurs organizations,” in his own reported words, and was sentenced to serve nine months in prison.
Following a stint as head trainer of the Exmoor Dog Training Club, John and Jo Hicks in 1989 used a large personal legacy to found International Animal Rescue, now a $4 million per year organization with offices and projects in the United Kingdom, U.S., India, Indonesia, Malta, and the Netherlands.
Early International Animal Rescue activities included establishing “a large animal sanctuary in the U.K. for horses, donkeys, cows, goats, pigs, monkeys, parrots, dogs, cats and wildlife,” according to John Hicks’ bio, beginning an ongoing campaign against bird shooting in Malta in 1993, and forming International Animal Rescue/Goa in 1998.
Retiring from active involvement in International Animal Rescue management in 2000, John and Jo Hicks relocated to Goa and for the next 15 years focused on building IAR/Goa. IAR/Goa activities have included sterilizing more than 32,000 dogs and 11,000 cats, vaccinating 60,000 dogs against rabies, and forming Primate Trust India to operate a monkey sanctuary, which at John Hicks’ death reportedly had 43 monkeys in care.