Scientists Urge Charities to Stop Animal Gifting

Jane Goodall says gifts could add more burdens where food and water are scarce.

Close-Up Of Goat
Thomas Woollard / EyeEm / Getty Images

Around the holidays, generous people often turn to charities that donate animals to those in need. The goal is that a goat, a heifer, or a flock of chickens will offer lasting benefits with resources such as milk, eggs, or wool.

But a new campaign backed by primatologist Jane Goodall and other scientists urges charities to stop giving animals as gifts. They suggest that animals are often given to people in areas where food and water are scarce, thus straining already-limited local supplies.

In a video statement, Goodall said:

“In the lead-up to Christmas, many people are feeling generous and want to help those less fortunate than themselves. There are a number of organizations that have launched campaigns, suggesting that one way to help those suffering poverty and hunger is to gift them an animal, such as a heifer. As a result, farm animals are purchased in great numbers by generous donors. Unfortunately, this can result in unintended consequences. The animals must be fed and they need a lot of water, and in so many places water is getting more and more scarce thanks to climate change. Veterinary care is often limited or totally lacking.”

Instead, she suggests people donate to fund irrigation projects and other programs to support agriculture.

“It will be ever so much better to help by supporting plant-based projects and sustainable irrigation methods, regenerative agriculture to improve the soil,” she adds. “Well this means charities must develop plans to create a gift package that will appeal to the generosity of those who want to help those less fortunate than themselves. Thank you.”

Animals vs. Plants

The campaign was launched by the In Defense of Animals’ Interfaith Vegan Coalition and the Animals Save Movement.

The group suggests that animals, “worsen the climate crisis, decrease food stability, undermine sustainable development, contribute to animal suffering, and cause health impacts by promoting unhealthy western diets,” according to a statement.

Instead, the campaign is urging charities and donors to consider plant-based alternatives. They suggest putting programs in place to grow plants for people to eat directly instead of to feed to the animals. They argue plants are more sustainable and better for the environment without the threats of health problems or issues like water and soil contamination triggered by animals.

These gifting programs “perpetuate the endless cycle of cruelty to animals, overuse the planet's limited resources, and amplify the climate crisis,” Lisa Levinson, Interfaith Vegan Coalition co-founder and In Defense of Animals campaigns director, tells Treehugger.

“Our coalition members urge fellow faith-based organizations to replace animal gifting programs with plant-based initiatives that empower communities to invest vital resources in eco-friendly sustainable solutions. We favor win-win solutions that benefit all living beings.” 

Lack of Land

There are many charities that give animal gifts to people in need, including Heifer International and Oxfam.

Heifer International supports people in 21 countries in Africa, Asia, and the Americas through dozens of programs. This includes animal-gifting programs where donors can give a flock of chickens for $20, a goat or sheep for $120, or a calf for $500.

According to the organization’s FAQs, the reason they donate animals instead of crops often has to do with lack of arable land:

“Many of the world's people have little or no land and are often faced with steep terrain; rocky, acidic soil and scarce water. They are likely to raise a few goats and plant grass and trees rather than plow up the land for grain crops. Heifer understands how important appropriate livestock are to these people, and we work with them to ensure that the balance of crops, livestock and trees remain consistent with good ecology.”

According to the group, they offer training and support on livestock management and care, as well as environmental best practices.

“The animals should be a vital part of the farm activities without causing an extra burden on family members or the farm resources in general. The species and breed chosen must be appropriate for the area. Our expectation is that our project partners will provide care for the animal in an environment that minimizes stress and satisfies its basic behavioral and social needs.”

View Article Sources
  1. "Stop Animal Gifting." Animal Save Movement.

  2. Lisa Levinson, Interfaith Vegan Coalition co-founder and In Defense of Animals campaigns director

  3. "The Most Important Gift Catalog in the World." Heifer International.

  4. "About Animals." Heifer International.