VERO was founded by members and graduates of Oxford University. It enjoys the support, as patrons, of some of the leading figures in animal studies and animal rights, many of them graduates of Oxford University. Oxford, in fact, is where the modern animal rights movement may be said to have begun in the 1970s.
Richard Adams (Worcester College) is the author (among many other books) of Watership Down, Shardik, and Plague Dogs, modern classics in their kind which explore the lives and significance of animals. In Plague Dogs (1977), the setting is a research establishment called Animal Research, Scientific and Experimental (ARSE). Two dogs escape, and the pursuit of them brings into tragic play all the human motives, good and bad, which govern the lives of subject animals.
Tony Benn (New College) has been an outstanding figure in British political life since the 1950s, and his published diaries are an unrivalled record of the period’s politics. He has been a vegetarian since the 1970s, and the vision of justice and community which he has so eloquently promoted includes the non-human animals, as readers of his Letters to my Grandchildren (2009) will find.
Dr Stephen R. L. Clark (Balliol and All Souls) is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Liverpool University, and the author of many books and articles on the rights of animals, a subject in which he has been one of the pioneers, and on nature ethics more generally: see for instance The Moral Status of Animals (1977) and How to Think about the Earth (1993). From 1998 to 2006 he served on the Animal Procedures Committee, which advises the Home Secretary on vivisection matters.
J.M.Coetzee (Hon. Dr of Letters, Oxford University) is an eminent novelist who in 2003 was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. The citation spoke of him as “ruthless in his criticism of the cruel rationalism and cosmetic morality of western civilisation”. This sort of criticism is brilliantly applied to humanity’s relations with other animals in Disgrace (1999) and The Lives of Animals (also 1999; expanded in 2003 to form Elizabeth Costello). Outside his fiction too he has spoken for animal rights, especially in Australia, where he now lives.
Caroline Lucas MP became the first Green Party member of the House of Commons in 2010, representing Brighton Pavilion. She came into representative politics as the U.K. Party’s second ever councillor, on Oxford City Council. She then served as an MEP, winning the RSPCA’s Michael Kay Award “for her outstanding contribution to European animal welfare”. From 2008 to 2012 she was the Green Party’s Leader. During all her time of involvement in green politics, she has promoted the interests of animals and supported animal advocacy organisations. For many years it has been Green Party policy to “end all animal experiments”.
Sir David Madden (Merton College) is a retired diplomat. Latterly, he was British Ambassador in Athens from 1999 to 2004, and then Political Adviser to the EU Peace-Keeping Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He is a trustee of The Brooke Hospital for Animals and of Compassion in World Farming, and consultant to the World Society for the Protection of Animals, working especially on its Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare.
Dr Jeffrey Masson initially studied Sanskrit, in which subject he became a professor at the University of Toronto. He also trained as a psychoanalyst, and has written extensively on psychiatry, and on Freud and his legacy. More recently he has applied his psychiatric knowledge and experience to the inner lives of animals, publishing a series of celebrated and pioneering studies, including When Elephants Weep (1995), The Pig who Sang to the Moon (2003), and Raising the Peaceable Kingdom (2005).
Dr Richard Ryder wrote the chapter on vivisection for Animals, Men, and Morals (1971) - the collection of essays, edited and mostly written by Oxford academics, which pioneered modern thinking about animal rights. In his chapter, Richard Ryder established the term “speciesism”, which he coined to identify the essential wrong involved in all animal abuse. He was at that time a clinical psychologist at Oxford’s Warneford Hospital. Later in the seventies, he became Chair of the RSPCA’s Council, guiding it towards a more radical concept of its responsibilities. Then and since, he has been a key personality in the animal rights movement, and an influential writer of books, including Animal Revolution (1989) and Painism: a Modern Morality (2001).
Vernon Reynolds (Magdalen College) is Emeritus Professor of Biological Anthropology at Oxford. He founded the Budongo Forest Project in Uganda in 1990, to study and support the population of chimpanzees there, nearly destroyed by the civil wars and poaching of the primates as Western pets. It is now the Budongo Conservation Field Station, an internationally renowned centre for research and conservation, of which Professor Reynolds is the Projects Adviser. Among his books is The Chimpanzees of the Budongo Forest: Ecology, Behaviour, and Conservation (2005).
Peter Tatchell has been a campaigner for social justice ever since his schooldays in Australia, beginning with (and not since forsaking) the rights of the Aboriginal people there. He first became a leader in the campaign for gay rights in the early 1970s, and he has promoted that and many other human rights causes in the UK and throughout the world with famous courage and determination. He has written AIDS: a Guide to Survival (1987), and has been especially critical of the part which animal-based research has played in delaying the development of medication for that disease (see www.vero.org.uk/report.asp). Peter Tatchell has said that “human rights and animal rights are two aspects of the same struggle against injustice”.