Showing posts from 2015

Conservation: a rich white man's hobby?

Yesterday, Voice of Nature ran an event in the UK to discuss rewilding across the British Isles.

The event was streamed on the internet so that people from around the world could watch for free (which is great).

As someone who couldn't afford to travel down there, I decided to watch it on YouTube.  However, after realising that the entire panel of "experts" that would be discussing this topic were rich white men, it somewhat put me off.  I was struck by many questions.
Why is it that in many conservation events, speakers are more often than not from these three categories (rich, white and male)?  What does this suggest about the diversity and equality within this sector? Should we be doing more to promote diversity?  Do these three categories suggest something to the outsider about what type of person you should be if you want to be a successful conservationist?  Is conservation another discipline stuck in hegemonic power structures?  How do these structures affect the gove…

Dear Owen Paterson, economic growth will not solve all the world's problems

On 20 September 2015, The Telegraph published an opinion piece suggesting that economic growth is the key to saving the planet.  Written by Owen Paterson, the former Environment Secretary, the article argues that the environmental movement was wrong: development is not a threat to our ecosystems but rather the cure.
Paterson argues that “ecomodernism” (decoupling humanity’s dependency on natural resources in exchange for technological advancement), will be vital to reduce our impact on the environment.  Technology has, of course, helped to limit fossil fuel usage through innovations in renewable energy technology such as solar panels and wind farms.  AgriTech has also assisted farmers in using less fertilisers through precision agriculture, which can reduce environmental pollution.  I am not denying that technology can, when used appropriately, significantly reduce our ecological footprint.  What I am concerned with is the blatant obscuring of facts to satisfy his argument.
Whilst we…

Big Cats in Your Back Yard?

From my latest published piece in Reforesting Scotland, Issue 51, p42.

As the golden sun began to set beyond the mountain range, haunting shadows of ancient trees quivered in the autumnal wind. Suddenly, there was a commotion in the undergrowth: a lone young roe deer dashed across an opening in the forest. Closely behind him, a large felid with a short tail bounded after the ungulate in hot pursuit. A lynx. Gaining ground, the lynx tripped the deer, causing it to stumble into a pile of fallen leaves. With a swift, bone-crushing bite to the back of the neck, the lynx severed the spinal cord of the deer, killing him instantly.
Scenes like this have not been witnessed in Scotland for well over a millennium. Changes in climate and habitats, combined with sustained persecution by humans, led to the extinction of British lynx around 1,300 years ago. The disappearance of this big cat has left a noticeable hole in the ecosystem. As lynx are predatory animals, high up in the food chain, they hav…

Was Cecil the lion a martyr for his species?

Repost from my article with Diogo Verissimo on The Conversation

The death of a celebrity often makes the headlines, but it is less common that the death of wild animal has the same effect. However, it appears that the entire world has mourned the loss of Cecil the lion, killed on a private game reserve bordering a national park in Zimbabwe. But is the recent barrage of attacks on trophy hunting, and the US dentist who killed Cecil, justified?

Let’s be clear: Cecil was killed illegally, which we don’t condone. The landowner who allowed the hunt on his reserve without the necessary permit should face the justice system. But this one bad apple should not tarnish an entire industry.

Legally hunting lions in Zimbabwe is highly regulated: it requires various permits and licenses from the client, professional hunter and hunting reserve owner. National quotas aim to ensure sustainable off-take of the species and, in western Zimbabwe, lions are only killed once they have reached a certain age to …

Can you bribe people to like predators?

My latest article, "Media Framing of Financial Mechanisms for Resolving Human-Predator Conflict in Namibia", (bit of a mouthful, I'm sorry) has just been published in the journal Human Dimensions of Wildlife (and what's more, it's FREE to read - thanks ESRC for paying for open-access articles!). 

The long and short of this study is that I read a bunch of Namibian newspapers to see how different types of finance schemes (i.e. payments of some sort) could improve human-carnivore coexistence.  

In plain English, what this means is does giving people money really make them happier about having carnivores living on their farm and potentially eating their livestock?

[spoiler alert]

Well the answer is: not really.

In particular, compensation (i.e. being paid for livestock that has been killed by predators) was seen in bad light when people were (un)fortunate to be enrolled in this scheme.  This was because of problems with corruption, delayed payments, the money not being en…

Could the Pill save the polar bear?

Repost from my article in The Conversation

Conservationists tend to spend their time worrying about protecting forests, catching poachers or keeping carbon out of the atmosphere. But all these things (and more) are driven by humans. Given that it’s easier and cheaper to reduce the human birth rate than it is to address these other issues, why aren’t conservationists more concerned about keeping our population down?

After all, it is estimated that more than three-quarters of the world’s ice-free land has been modified by people. We are already overstepping the planet’s boundaries and our actions are causing climate change and the sixth mass extinction.

By 2050 human population growth alone will threaten a further 14% of the planet’s species; this is on top of the 52% decline in numbers of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish over the past four decades.

Only 13 years ago, we were 6 billion; just seven years later, we hit 7 billion and by 2100 we could be as many as 12.3 billio…

Why give up your free time to volunteer at an animal charity?

In the summer of 2008 I spent 3 months interning at the Center for Animal Research & Education in Texas, where I got involved with the husbandry of a collection of big cats.
Some people have asked why bother giving up your free time to volunteer?  Well, we made a video to show you why this is a fantastic idea.

Reintroduce Lynx? Fine, But First We Must Control The Real Apex Predator

Repost from my article featured on IFLScience
March 11, 2015 | by Niki Rust

photo credit: Coming to a forest near you? lynx image via,uk Share on facebook

The lynx: a short-tailed felid weighing up to six times more than your domestic moggy. This large carnivore once roamed the British Isles 1,300 years ago but, due to habitat destruction, overhunting of its prey and purposeful killing by humans, the species was driven to extinction in the UK. Now, there are plans to reintroduce this species to three sites in England and Scotland. But what are the chances of a success?

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has strict guidelines for reintroducing species into the wild. One of the key recommendations they make is that the main causes of the historical decline must be addressed to ensure success of the reintroduction.

In terms of the threats to lynx, we now have stringent land management policies in place so it is unlikely that the cat’s preferred fore…

How cat flaps for warthogs can help save the cheetah

This is from my latest piece in The Conversation on my latest journal article in African Journal of Ecology.

Southern Africa’s game farms are private reserves that house wildlife such as giraffes, zebras and antelope to be used for restocking national parks, meat production or trophy hunting. But these farms have a problem. Warthogs and porcupines want to move around the reserves too, and they have an annoying habit of making large holes under the boundary fences to burrow their way in and out. For cheetahs, these holes are an ideal way to get inside and prey on the valuable game.

Cheetahs are considered pests in these reserves and, in Namibia, game farmers end up killing more cheetahs than livestock farmers do. These game farms needed to find a way to let the warthogs in while keeping the big predators out.

Warthogs in, cheetahs out. Niki Rust, Author provided

The solution is simple but unusual – have you ever considered whether your cat flap might be used by other animals besides your f…

If you go down to the woods today you’re in for a big surprise – Europe’s bears are back

Latest article published in The Conversation on the recolonisation of predators in Europe. This features an interview with me on my views on this topic.

Anyone got any loo roll? Kjell Isaksen

In a rare conservation success story, research has shown that numbers of wild large carnivores in the continent have been steadily increasing and a third of the European mainland now has at least one kind of large carnivore.

There are an estimated 17,000 brown bears, 12,000 wolves, 9,000 lynx and 1,250 wolverines living in Europe – nowhere near historical levels, but a healthy amount all the same. But what’s more surprising is that these populations are found in the same places as people.

In a new study in the journal Science containing the most exhaustive data set ever collected on large carnivores in Europe, Guillaume Chapron and colleagues found that not only are all four species surviving in human-dominated landscapes, but their populations are generally stable or even increasing.

Move over Hugh …