Climate change? Habitat loss? Who’s looking out for wildlife? WildCRU is!

Talk and presentation by David Macdonald.

Thursday 19th November 2020

See Adam Mynott’s report of David’s excellent talk further below.

David Macdonald, Oxford’s first professor of Wildlife Conservation, founded WildCRU to tackle the emerging biodiversity crisis. WildCRU’s research bridges theory and practical problem solving.


In 2004 David won the Dawkins Prize for Conservation, the first of a slew of awards. His students occupy key conservation positions worldwide. He was made a CBE in 2010. Oxford was awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize in recognition of  WildCRU’s outstanding work in wildlife and environmental conservation.

For more about WildCRU click here

Pictures from WildCRU website where copyright is acknowledged

Adam Mynott writes about the meeting:
Few experts are genuine pioneers in their field, but the renowned naturalist David Macdonald is exactly that.  In a 90 minute lecture and Q&A for Farnham Humanists he demonstrated why he is such a respected and celebrated conservationist, who has done as much as anyone to highlight and improve the survival chances of dozens of endangered animal species around the globe.

He is a pioneer because in 1986, he set up, in conjunction with Oxford University, the world’s first wildlife conservation research body, WildCRU.  WildCRU has grown from its earliest studies on foxes in the British countryside to be one of the world’s premier animal conservation research units, looking as David put it for “practical solutions to conservation problems” around the world, and he and his research colleagues have improved the lot of an unbelievable range of creatures, from Ethiopian wolves, Galapagos Penguins and badgers to water voles, tigers, lions and so on.

In his fascinating talk David explained how research can unpick what are often multiple, simultaneous threats to animal species such as habitat loss, threats from invasive species and climate change and come up with solutions that increase the animal’s chances of survival, but also crucially fit the survival plan into 21st century realities. 

He gave a number of examples of where WildCRU’s work has succeeded.  Take the Ethiopian Wolf, whose diminishing range is now restricted to a few mountain enclaves in the East African country.  WildCRU’s research showed, he said, that pressure on the wolf has come primarily from invasion of its habitat by humans. Wolves have been forced onto ever smaller and ever higher parcels of land by population growth, disease (caught from domestic dogs) and climate change which has allowed Ethiopian farmers to grow barley on progressively higher mountain slopes.

The solution for the Ethiopian Wolf will come from a multi-pronged approach including community education targeting governments, local authorities, farmers and schoolchildren, habitat protection, and the sustainable exploitation of natural resources.

Big cats have been a particular research priority for David and he showed that by protecting a large predator, e.g. a lion, and getting the local community to have a stake in its protection will almost invariably lead to the protection of other species living alongside the lion.  Look after an ‘umbrella species’ and the protection of other fauna and flora will follow.  Key to his success has been to understand how to integrate a survival strategy into the needs of the local human population, and to understand how locals perceive their environment.  His research showed that if asked to list charismatic, endangered animal species westerners come up with the predictable list: tigers, elephants, lions, cheetahs, leopards, etc.  Ask an African farmer the same question and he or she or she will choose, zebra, giraffe, hares, antelope.  Different environment, different perspective. 

David said it was the lion, or specifically one lion, that has given his research institute, WildCRU its biggest PR coup.  The lion was Cecil, who was shot and killed by an American crossbow hunter and dentist, Walter Palmer in 2015.  Cecil had been the subject of one of David’s research projects. The outrage that followed the killing of Cecil swept round the world and totally unexpectedly the US talk-show host, Jimmy Kimmel said on live TV to his vast audience that the best way to protect the likes of Cecil was to support the work being done by WildCRU and the WildCRU website address was flashed on the screen.  4.4 million people logged on in the next few days straining the website to breaking point, but bringing largely welcome attention to WildCRU’s work.  David said he was able to capitalise on the ‘Cecil moment’ to turn it into a ‘Cecil movement’. 

David’s enthralling talk finished with questions and in his responses he said that a very significant change in the world’s lifestyle, consumption of resources and attitude towards the natural world is required to avoid the extinction of large numbers of animal species.

Click WildCRU for more information