Geopolitics of Wildlife Conservation

For thirty years, David Macdonald’s vision for wildCRU was to focus, often through our long-term studies, on down-to-earth empirical data that created the evidence to advance science and inform policy. These studies have always had a strong human dimension and we have striven to make them ever more inter-disciplinary. Building on that vision, about five years ago David became convinced that from this deeply grounded approach there could be a powerful synergy with higher level, holistic, research on the context of conservation decision-making: from groundedness to geopolitics. From the start, a small group of us has  have explored this from both top-down and bottom-up perspectives. Top down, we have looked at how different nations invest in conservation, and how their attributes, economies and governance affect their capacities to do so. Bottom-up, we have explored how individual citizen value, and make decision about their engagement with wildlife and the environment. From both perspective, and based on our earthy evidence-based research, the goal is behaviour change. Many of these ideas were embodied, for example, in the Cecil Summit; others begin to be reported in early trickle, now a growing stream, of articles we have published (listed below). This has been the beginning of the WildCRU’s initiative in what we call Conservation Geopolitics.

These early steps are becoming a forceful march. We already had graduate students with training in economics and politics, but with the appointment of Dr Tim Hodgett’s as our Kadas Senior Research Fellow in Conservation Geopolitics, we bound forward with senior expert in economics and social science. Within this initiative we now have high calibre collaborators in economics, ethics, international law, international relations and social anthropology. Our Oxford Martin School project on Natural Governance, fortifies the initiative, and more and more international collaborators  join. Obviously, human societies have numerous effects on wildlife. Often these effects are best understood at the local scale, which is why WildCRU has been, and will remain, committed to working with local communities in conservation projects in a wide range of countries. But people and wildlife are rarely isolated from the global networks that shape so much of the contemporary world. From economics (levels of wealth, inequality, development) to politics (international relations, conservation policies) to governance (effective bureaucracies, the rule of law, control of corruption), there are a range of ‘geopolitical’ factors that affect the success of conservation interventions. WildCRU’s initiative amounts to creating a new discipline: Conservation Geopolitics. It aims to identify the most important of these with respect to wildlife conservation (in the first instance, much of our focus is on large mammals), to analyse how these various factors interact, and to develop policy-relevant recommendations to account for such factors in global-scale wildlife conservation.

Identifying geopolitical risks for wildlife

The WildCRU Geopolitics of Wildlife project is concerned with identifying the key national and international-level economic, political, and governance risks (termed collectively as ‘geopolitical risks’) that affect the conservation of large mammals.

Thus far, WildCRU researchers have focussed on mapping where these geopolitical risks intersect with conservation priorities for global felid species, with more detailed analyses being separately performed for lions and African wild dogs.

Ongoing work is looking into: (i) determining which ‘geopolitical factors’ have historically had the most significant impacts on mammal populations, (ii) identifying which factors are most relevant with respect to contemporary populations, and (iii) the role of international politics, development agencies, and global legal treaties in mitigating some of these risks.

References, from both Top-down and Bottom-up Perspectives

Dickman, A. J., Hinks, A. E., Macdonald, E. A., Burnham, D., & Macdonald, D. W. (2015). Priorities for Global Felid Conservation. Conservation Biology, 29(3), 854-864.

Lindsey, P. A., Chapron, G., Petracca, L. S., Burnham, D., Hayward, M. W., Henschel, P., Dickman, A. (2017). Relative efforts of countries to conserve world’s megafauna. Global Ecology and Conservation, 10, 243-252.

Lindsey, P.A., Petracca, L.S., Funston, P.J., Bauer, H., Dickman, A., Everatt, K., Flyman, M., Henschel, P., Hinks, A.E., Kasiki, S., Loveridge, A., Macdonald, D.W., Mandisodza, R., Mgoola, W., Miller, S.M., Nazerali, S., Siege, L., Uiseb, K., Hunter, L.T.B. (2017)The performance of African protected areas for lions and their prey. Biological Conservation 209:137-149

Macdonald, D. W., & Chapron, G. (2017). Outbreeding ideas for conservation success. Oryx, 51(2), 206-206.

Macdonald, D. W., Jacobsen, K. S., Burnham, D., Johnson, P. J., & Loveridge, A. J. (2016). Cecil: a moment or a movement? Analysis of media coverage of the death of a lion, Panthera leo. Animals, 6(5). doi:10.3390/ani6050026

Macdonald, D. W., Johnson, P. J., Loveridge, A. J., Burnham, D., & Dickman, A. J. (2016). Conservation or the Moral High Ground: Siding with Bentham or Kant. Conservation Letters, n/a-n/a. doi:10.1111/conl.12254

Macdonald, E. A., Burnham, D., Hinks, A. E., Dickman, A. J., Malhi, Y., & Macdonald, D. W. (2015). Conservation inequality and the charismatic cat: Felis felicis. Global Ecology & Conservation, 3, 851-866. doi:10.1016/j.gecco.2015.04.006

Macdonald, E. A., Hinks, A. E., Weiss, D.J., Dickman, A. J., Burnham, D., Sandom, C.J., Malhi, Y., & Macdonald, D. W. (In press) Identifying ambassador species for conservation marketing. Global Ecology & Conservation

Moorhouse, T., D’Cruze, N. C., & Macdonald, D. W. (2016). Unethical use of wildlife in tourism: what’s the problem, who is responsible, and what can be done? Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 1-12. doi:10.1080/09669582.2016.1223087

Moorhouse, T. P., Balaskas, M., D’Cruze, N., & Macdonald, D. W. (2016). Information Could Reduce Consumer Demand for Exotic Pets. Conservation Letters.

Sandom, C. J., Faurby, S., Svenning, J.C., Burnham, D., Dickman, A., Hinks, A.E., Macdonald, E.A., Ripple, B., Williams, J., Macdonald, D.W. (2017). “Learning from the past to prepare for the future: Felids face continued threat from declining prey richness.” Ecography. doi:10.1111/ecog.03303