Head of former WSPA out after six years
LONDON, U.K.––The World Animal Protection board of trustees, on the eve of the two largest international animal protection conferences of 2015, abruptly removed six-year director general Mike Baker from office.
What this might mean for the future direction of World Animal Protection, formerly the World Society for Animal Protection, was left completely unclear.
(See also What Next for World Animal Protection?, by Janice Cox.)
World Animal Protection raised £27.8 million in 2014, but spent £28.9 million, for a net loss of £1.1 million.
Word of Baker’s sudden exit circulated as delegates gathered in Sarawak, Malaysia for the 2015 Asia for Animals conference and in Porto, Portugal for the International Companion Animal Welfare Conference, each to begin on October 6, each expected to attract more than 300 representatives of animal charities from about 30 nations.
Reported Rebecca Cooney of the British nonprofit news web site Third Sector, on September 28, 2015, “The conservation charity World Animal Protection has declined to explain the departure of its chief executive Mike Baker, who left at short notice last week, according to sources. The sources said staff were told on Thursday that Baker, who had been in the role for six years, would be leaving the charity at the end of September. But his desk appeared to have already been cleared and he did not seem to be in the office, they said.”
A World Animal Protection spokesperson told Cooney that “Baker, who oversaw the charity’s rebrand from the World Society for the Protection of Animals, would not receive a payoff on leaving the charity. The company review site Glass Door has many reviews from people who claim to be former employees and are critical of Baker and the charity’s management,” Cooney added.
Baker was succeeded as chief executive on an interim basis by program director Steve McIvor.
Baker succeeded Peter Davies
Baker, 50, who had been chief executive officer of the Brooke Hospital for Animals since June 2001, in June 2009 succeeded Peter Davies as director general of the then-World Society for the Protection of Animals.
Davies, previously director general of the Royal SPCA of Britain, had headed WSPA since mid-2002, widely remembered as the most effective time for the organization. Hopeful rumors flew that Davies, though much older than Baker, might return to World Animal Protection, but Davies indicated to ANIMALS 24-7 that he knew nothing about it.
“Mike Baker’s departure was totally unexpected,” Davies said, “and so far no reason has been given or leaked. But it was abrupt and took immediate effect. The planned strategy for WAP has not been divulged as far as I know. We will have to wait and see.
“Meanwhile,” Davies added, “I will remain President of Eurogroup for Animals until June 2016, and will continue as a United Kingdom trustee of Four Paws UK,” the British arm of the Austrian-based international animal welfare charity Vier Pfoten.
Board members contacted for comment by ANIMALS 24-7 had not yet responded when this article was posted.
Baker dropped “member societies”
The World Animal Protection office in London directs 10 WSPA subsidiaries and two affiliates worldwide. Until October 2011, the former WSPA boasted more than 450 “member societies” in 110 nations. On that basis, WSPA and the ancestral World Federation for the Protection of Animals, founded in 1951, had for 60 years purported to represent the global humane community.
Dispensing with member societies, a Baker initiative, meant that WSPA no longer needed to try to persuade membership to endorse positions and policies which were increasingly at odds with those of many and perhaps most of the former member societies.
Conflicts over WAP involvement in animal agriculture and fundraising in connection with disaster relief were of particular note.
Claiming to be “the world leader in animal-focused disaster response and risk reduction,” the then-WSPA did not respond usefully to appeals from the Soi Dog Foundation and Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand for help during catastrophic flooding in October 2011, though WSPA repeatedly claimed to be helping Wildlife Friends.
WFFT founder Edwin Wiek told ANIMALS 24-7 that he received a promise of funding “ if we would rent one of our boats to them for their own project to bring food out with the livestock department.”
WSPA in 2012 spent $19.7 million to promote “humane and sustainable agriculture,” including projects and campaigns that critics identified as neither humane nor sustainable, plus $7.2 million on “disaster management,” chiefly to feed livestock after disasters that were worsened by environmentally inappropriate animal husbandry. Thus, while Baker says he is vegan, 46% of the WSPA program budget in effect subsidized animal agriculture.
The WSPA policy on farmed animals at the time discussed 15 aspects of meat production, but mostly in vague terms that even factory farmers might endorse.
WSPA was, however, “opposed to mutilations carried out for non-therapeutic reasons,” such as debeaking laying hens, and held that, “it should be our declared aim and public demand to have all long distance transport of animals for slaughter replaced by carcass-only trade.”
Fish, dairy & birds
Further, WSPA opposed “the commercial practice of allowing anglers into fish farms to play the fish and then throw them back. Handling, transport and slaughter of fish must comply with general humane principles.” Few other humane organizations have policies on fish.
The WSPA “Not in my Cuppa” campaign promoted the traditional British dairy industry in ostensible opposition to confinement farming.
This logically should have excluded endorsing the “zero grazing” approach to animal husbandry, which means raising animals in close confinement, promoted by Heifer International.
Yet WSPA in August 2010 puffed Heifer International in a press release after Heifer International joined more than 40 other organizations in endorsing the symbolic WSPA “Animals Matter to Me” campaign.
In September 2010, at the Africa Animal Welfare Action conference in Nairobi, Kenya, Baker endorsed the Rural Backyard Poultry Development program, introduced by the Indian government in 2009 to help local egg producers keep market share, after losing 70% to industrial poultry conglomerates. The program goal was to boost the size of existing backyard flocks to the range of “20 to 50 birds per [participating] family,” difficult to do in the cramped confines of Indian village housing without resorting to close caging.
“Success” typically necessitates moving “backyard” flocks into more-or-less conventional poultry farms undertaken on a smaller scale. The end fate of the birds remains essentially the same as for any poultry, except that they might be killed and sold closer to home.
World Animal Protection, formerly WSPA, also ran into frequent complaints about misleading fundraising during Baker’s tenure.
For example, three years after Wildlife SOS took custody of the last known dancing bear in India in December 2009, having rescued 460 bears in seven years, Baker and Wildlife Trust of India founder Vivek Menon jointly claimed credit for the accomplishment at the 21st International Conference on Bear Research and Management in New Delhi.
Baker and Menon claimed to have helped 46 families to leave the dancing bear trade. Initiating this approach three years before WSPA and WTI began to use it, Free The Bears, International Animal Rescue, and Wildlife SOS helped more than 500 families to give up the dancing bear business.
Baker and Menon claimed to have returned 30 rescued bears to the wild, after years of failures in which bears who lacked wild survival knowledge either died or disappeared.
More than 400 bears, few if any of whom could have survived in the wild, had meanwhile enjoyed life at the Wildlife SOS sanctuaries in Agra, Bhopal, and Bannerghatta.
Korea & Bali
An even more egregious example of misleading fundraising under Baker’s watch came in February 2012. “Victory! Korea commits to end bear farming,” bannered a WSPA electronic newsletter. In truth, the Korean National Assembly budget committee had merely apportioned $175,000 to fund a study of the bear bile industry
World Animal Protection under Baker enjoyed a noteworthy success in Bali. Funded by the then-WSPA to vaccinate 210,000 dogs in the six months ending on March 31, 2011, the Bali Animal Welfare Association achieved a 48% reduction in human rabies deaths and a 45% decrease in dog rabies cases.
But local governments immediately resumed killing dogs when the program ended, killing mostly those who had already been vaccinated. More human rabies deaths followed, touching off a cycle of dog purges followed by human rabies deaths followed by more dog purges that continues to this day.
Fur & sealing
Baker’s tenure at World Animal Protection ends with Montreal attorney Dominique Bellemare still on the board of directors, another longtime point of concern for much of the international animal advocacy community.
WSPA policy from formation of the charity in 1981 held that it “considers it morally indefensible to subject animals to suffering and death for fur or skin products,” and “is opposed to the manufacture, sale, possession and use of any snares and traps which cause suffering or death…WSPA opposes, on both ethical and humane grounds, the harassment, capture or killing of marine mammals for commercial and sport purposes.”
The WSPA positions were so problematic to the efforts of former Canadian Minister for External Affairs Joe Clark to defend sealing and the fur trade that a May 1985 Department of External Affairs discussion paper mentioned that External Affairs might “seek to work within” WSPA to change their policies.
Becoming involved with WSPA board affairs in 1988, Bellemare in June 2008 was elected board president, a year before then-president Peter Davies was ousted.
Bellemare had been politically associated with Joe Clark since 1983, and was a policy advisor at the Ministry of External Affairs in 1990-1991, at the end of Clark’s tenure.
Both Bellemare and Clark told ANIMALS 24-7 that Bellemare recused himself from work on animal issues, but neither would explain exactly what Bellemare did.
Bellemare has little visible record on animal issues, and after becoming WSPA president, he repeatedly refused to specifically state his endorsement of the WSPA policies on fur and marine mammals.
Running as a Conservative, Bellemare in October 2008 failed for the third time to win a seat in Parliament––although Canadian voters re-elected the Conservative government of prime minister Stephen Harper, a vocal defender of the Atlantic Canadian seal hunt.
Though not visibly active in pursuing the May 2009 European Union ban on importing seal pelts and other sealing byproducts, WSPA issued a press release saluting the victory.
Mike Baker resumé
Baker before his stints with World Animal Protection and the Brooke Hospital for Animals served as political manager for the British Union Against Vivisection, 1989-1994, and then headed the BUAV in 1995-1998, after an interlude with Amnesty International.
From November 1998 until Baker became the Brooke chief executive he was United Kingdom director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
Founded by Dorothy Brooke in 1934 as The Old War Horse Hospital, the Brooke at Baker’s arrival raised about £3 million per year, supporting Dorothy Brooke’s original equine aid program in Cairo, plus similar projects elsewhere in Egypt, Ethiopia, Jordan, India, and Pakistan.
In addition, since March 2001 the Brooke had treated the horses and donkeys of Afghan refugees at camps in Peshwar, Pakistan. Under Baker, the Brooke followed U.S. troops into Afghanistan in 2002, and by March 2003 was operating clinics in both Kabul and Jalalabad. At peak, in 2008, the Afghan programs reached approximately 130,000 equines.
Also under Baker the Brooke added programs in Guatemala, Kenya, Nepal, Palestinian settlements in Israel, and on the West Bank.
Bringing to the Brooke the aggressive IFAW approach to fundraising, Baker nearly doubled fundraising investment in 2005, doubling revenue by the end of 2006.
But, under Baker, the Brooke board in November 2006 elected as board president the Duchess of Cornwall, known as Camila Parker Bowles before her marriage to Prince Charles. Both are avid fox hunters, and Charles is also a prolific bird shooter.
The Duchess’ involvement, did however coincide with a further surge in income. The Brooke raised nearly £11.1 million in fiscal 2007 and slightly more in fiscal 2008 despite the slowing world economy.
Baker gained experience with multi-organization coalitions as chair of the European Coalition Against Cosmetics Tests on Animals in both 1993-1994 and 1996-1998, and preceded Davies in heading Eurogroup for Animals, 2006-2012.
Baker has also served on the board of the Marwar Trust, formed in 2003 by Help In Suffering trustee Federico Spinola to sterilize and vaccinate street dogs in Jodhpur, India, following the model established by Help In Suffering in Jaipur and Darjeeling.