Showing posts from 2016

Change of Gir: new 8-page feature out in BBC Earth magazine

I feel humbled and privileged to have been asked to contribute to the new BBC Earth magazine that's now only in it's second issue.   I was asked to write an article about the conservation success story of the Asiatic lions in Gir forest, India.

You can buy Earth magazine in most newsagents around the UK as well as online at

Carnivores, colonisation and conflict

From my Africa Geographic article
Every time we turn on the TV nowadays we seem to be confronted with bad news about the environment, but is there anything that history can teach us about how to solve today’s problems? In light of the current carnivore conflict crisis in Namibia, we wanted to understand the history of Namibia’s predator management to find out how we ended up with such an intolerance of nature.
What we found baffled us and is explored in the journal, Carnivores, Colonisation and Conflict.

After scouring through documents detailing the country’s historical management of wildlife, complemented by interviews with farmers, we identified that the control of Namibia’s predators has followed a set pathway that culminated in the near annihilation of a guild of species.

How did this happen?

We based our analysis on philosopher and activist Val Plumwood’s understanding of how the world came to accept the oppression of women and nature. Plumwood identified seven steps in this oppres…

What really happened to mammoths and other ice age giants?

There might be as many as 10 million species of complex life on this planet today – a huge number. But add up all of the complex species that ever lived and some biologists think the grand total would be about five billion.

The estimate leads to an astonishing conclusion: a staggering 99% of species are not around any more. They have been driven to extinction.

More species are joining the ranks of the extinct every year. Many scientists believe we are living through an episode of remarkably rapid extinction, on a scale that has been seen only five times in the last half a billion years.

They call this current episode the sixth mass extinction – a large, global decline in a wide variety of species over a relatively short period of time. And they tend to agree that humans are the main cause.

Overhunting, overfishing, and human-driven habitat loss are pushing many species to the brink. In fact, we have changed the planet so much that some geologists are now suggesting that we have entere…

In Bangladesh, tigers are being killed by the local mafia

There are many reasons why people might want to kill a tiger, not the least of which is self-defence, but in Bangladesh the killings have a surprising motive
Even today, people still kill tigers and other endangered species. One of the most important questions to ask is why they do it, because it is only by understanding people's motives that we might change their behaviour.

Globally, tigers are an endangered species. Bangladesh was once a stronghold for them, but today it is home to barely 100. Many of the survivors cling on in the country's south, in the vast mangrove forests known as the Sundarbans.

During the British colonial period, hunting dramatically reduced the Sundarbans tiger population. Hunting was outlawed in 1974, but since then poaching has taken a severe toll on the Sundarbans tigers.

So why do people do it?

A Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) (Credit: Tony Heald/

A study published in the journal Oryx in October 2016 by Samia Saif of the Universi…

5 ways WWF is creating coexistence between snow leopards and people

Did you know that 23rd October is International Snow Leopard Day? And what better way to celebrate than to showcase the ways that WWF is helping people live in harmony with this grey ghost of the mountains.

Snow leopard cub © / Andy Rouse / WWF

Snow leopards are illusive: even some researchers that have been studying this species for years have never seen one up close. But that doesn’t mean that these cats don’t share the same space as people. In fact, in many places, snow leopards are silent neighbours to communities living in remote mountainous regions of Asia.

Whilst snow leopards do tend to avoid direct contact with people, they will sometimes take their livestock. However, people’s lives in the Himalayas are centred around their livestock – they use them for meat, milk and rugs. They also use their dung as fuel their fire for cooking and warmth. So having a predator take away their dinner and central heating system can anger the locals. In response, some people even ki…

Interview on Arise TV

On Monday, I was interviewed by Arise TV (Sky channel 519) about the ongoing poaching crisis of African elephants and pangolins.  You can watch the interview in full below:

Interview on BBC Radio Wales

This morning I woke up at the ungodly hour of 5 am to be interviewed on BBC Radio Wales.  I spoke about the international trade in endangered species and how the CITES meeting can help improve the conservation of pangolins.  You can listen to the clip here:  (My interview starts at 19 mins 50 seconds)

Today on BBC One's Breakfast show

Today I was interviewed on BBC One's Breakfast show to talk about the start of the CITES conference on endangered species.  I spoke about WWF's positions on ivory and pangolin trade.  You can watch the clip below.

How to create the most impact with your journal article

Impact. A word that causes most academics to get shivers down their spines. For American academics aspiring to get tenure, to Indian academics going for big grants, the impact factor of the journals you publish in could be the be-all-and-end-all for your entire career. Indeed, it can be the difference between getting that promotion/grant or not.

Much has been written about impact factors in the past, so I am not going to reinvent the wheel here. Yes, we know there are problems with using impact factors to assess the standard of an academic's work. But, for now, it seems that this is one of the main metrics that your boss and your grant assessor is going to look at when determining how "good" an academic you are.

However, let's not forget the real reason that most of us ever got into academia in the first place: to make a difference. To change the world. To improve technology. To save lives. To reduce pollution. To expand minds.

And how best can we do that? …

Condoms and Conservation: Using Birth Control to Help Save the Planet

Linking overpopulation to climate change can be a thorny issue, but on a local level some conservation charities are having great success integrating family planning advice into their environmental programming

By Flora Bagenal, interviewing Niki Rust amongst others
Reposted from NewsDeeply

It all began when some women asked for contraceptive advice from a pair of doctors working for a small international research group surveying the oceans in southern Madagascar. At the time, Blue Ventures was a conservation group made up of scientists and volunteers who were gathering data on coral reefs and fisheries in Velondriake, a remote and poverty-stricken part of the country. The doctors were there to provide medical assistance to divers, but they soon found their services were also required by women from the local villages.

“The medics had women coming to them, talking about their reproductive health needs,” says Laura Robson, the health and environment partnerships manager for Blue Ventures. “T…

Building pride: female empowerment helps women & lions

Reposted from my BBC article.

A male-dominated culture has meant that Samburu women rarely get a say in how their society handles big cats, but one project is trying to change that
Lionesses have a lot of power in lion society. The females typically work together to hunt down prey, and form crèches to look after their cubs. This cooperative behaviour brings in lots of food, and ensure that plenty of lion cubs survive to adulthood.

The female lions' empowerment stands in stark contrast to the human societies that live alongside the lions in Kenya's Samburu National Reserve. There, as in many other cultures throughout history, women have been discouraged from taking control – in part due to a male-dominated culture.

As it happens, lions – despite the lionesses' efforts – are vulnerable to extinction. So what might happen if we took a leaf out of the lions' book and began to allow women to make more decisions?

One Kenyan lion conservation organisation, Ewaso Lions, decide…

Can we ever coexist with tigers? These Indian tribes think so

Repost from my BBC Earth article.

In April 2016, there was a rare piece of good news about tigers. For the first time in over a century, the number of tigers went up. The latest global census counted 3,890 tigers, compared to just 3,200 tigers in 2010.

There are lots of reasons for this increase. But one key factor is that, in some places, people are finding ways to live alongside tigers.

India is home to around half of the world's tigers, and in several parts of the country, some local tribes co-exist fairly happily with tigers. That may sound surprising. After all, tigers sometimes kill people, so they might seem like the worst kind of neighbours. But people are living with them regardless.

What's more, these tribal communities might be helping the tigers. Survival International, a charity aiming to protect the rights of indigenous peoples, says "tribal peoples are the best conservationists and guardians of the natural world". That is a big claim, but they have evi…

How Human-Animal Studies can help us coexist with carnivores

Reposted from the Animals in Society blog.

When I was eight years old, my mother took me to a medieval re-enactment theme park. I was not very interested in learning about village life during medieval Britain, except for the fact that people at that time appeared to have a much closer relationship with other animals. As an animal lover, I remember being fascinated with the idea that every home at that point had their own barnyard menagerie, which helped to feed families for their entire lives.

In one of the model villages at the theme park, some chicks had just hatched from their eggs. The hen was doing her motherly duties of guarding and warming her little balls of fluff. Along I came, totally in awe at these beautiful and cute chicks; all I wanted to do was pick one up. Absolutely besotted with a tiny yellow one, I gathered it up in my small hands and trotted off to show it to my mum. In horror, my mother gasped at the sight of this poor little chirping bird, as the realisation dawn…

US government's policy on wolf culling may have increased poaching

Reposted from my article on the BBC

As the cold early spring sun began to shine between the trees, the only sound heard for miles around was the gentle rustling of leaves in the bone-chilling breeze. But faintly, in the distance, the galloping of footsteps began to thunder through the forest.

The wolf pack darted between the conifers on the trail of a deer. Suddenly, a deafening explosion echoed through the woods, and a wolf at the rear of the pack yelped and dropped to the floor. A poacher had shot it dead.

Such illegal killings are thought to be relatively common in the US. However, because poaching is illegal, we do not have a firm grasp on how often this illicit behaviour really goes on.

Conservationists have previously thought that poaching subsides if either legal culling by government officials, or trophy hunting, is allowed. The idea is that these legal forms of killing can make local people more tolerant of the wildlife they live with, reducing their urge to illegally kill animal…

7 reasons why human-carnivore conflict is more complex than you think

Last week, I published a journal article on the results of some of my research conducted in Namibia, which looked at what the underlying drivers of human-carnivore conflict were.  This was based on my experience of working and living in Namibia for 2 years, both at a conservation organisation and on livestock farms.

I wrote up a summary of some of these results into a popular press piece, which got published on The Conversation.  Whilst I do love The Conversation as I believe it is a magnificent way for academics to share their research with the general public, they (like many other media outlets) do often manipulate the findings to create a clickbait title to increase readership.  The editor made the title of my research "Why Namibia’s lions and leopards prefer prey from racist farms".  I asked to have this changed because it was not accurate so it got changed into "How lions, leopards and livestock are affected by racism on Namibia’s farms", which was vaguely mor…

Racist farmers report more livestock depredation, theft, poaching

Reposted from my recent article on The Conversation.

Predators like lions and leopards are becoming more populous in Namibia due to the success of recent conservation measures. These wild animals are unfortunately causing increasing problems on livestock farms, as some of them prefer to eat beef steak for dinner rather than gamey venison. This, unsurprisingly, annoys ranchers, who can turn to their guns for a short-term solution.

Conservationists have been trying to reduce this “human-wildlife conflict” for decades now. They’ve dabbled with livestock-guarding dogs to scare away predators, put up fences to keep livestock away from wild animals, given compensation to reimburse farmers for killed cows or sheep and even marketed “predator-friendly” beef that gives a price-premium to farmers that don’t kill carnivores.

But farmers in Namibia are still reporting increased conflict. Why is this?

Previous research has looked into the environmental factors that affect the situation, such as t…