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15: An Agenda for the Future

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  • 15. An Agenda for the Future

    © 2019 J.W. Wilson and R.B. Primack, CC BY 4.0


    A family in rural Tanzania celebrating solar power arriving in their village. New technologies provide great opportunities for more sustainable lifestyles. Photograph by Power Africa,, CC0.

    The field of conservation biology has set itself some imposing—but critical—goals: to describe Earth’s biological diversity, to protect what remains, and to restore what is damaged. To understand what a significant undertaking this is, consider the Living Planet Index ( which shows that, already in 2014, Sub-Saharan Africa’s vertebrate populations were on average down 56% compared to 1970 levels (WWF, 2018). Declines were even more pronounced for freshwater vertebrates which showed a 75% decline. With wildlife declines showing no sign of halting, we are in a race against time to prevent catastrophic losses. Conservation biology is a truly crisis discipline (Soulé, 1985; Kareiva and Marvier, 2012), because decisions often need to be made under pressure, with limited resources, and constrained by tight deadlines. At the same time, the discipline needs to offer a long-term conservation vision that extends beyond the immediate crisis, despite unreliable commitments to seeing such plans through to completion.

    Despite the challenges we face, there are many positive signs for cautious optimism. Some threatened species are recovering, the number of well-managed protected areas is increasing, and, in some cases, natural resources are being used more prudently on unprotected lands. We have also increased our capacity to restore degraded ecosystems to such a level that we are now reintroducing species that were once extinct in the wild. Our improved ability to protect biodiversity is in no small way attributable to the wide range of productive local, national, and international collaborative efforts that have been cultivated over the past few decades. It is also because the field of conservation biology has expanded for the better, by developing linkages with rural development, economics, the arts, social sciences, and government policy, to name a few.

    Make no mistake, many challenges remain unaddressed and under-addressed, and new ones will surely also arise. These challenges all need to be faced head-on, because there is no “Planet B”: Earth is our one and only planet. There will be times when the biodiversity crisis will feel insurmountable. When that happens, it is important to remember that every individual human can play a role in saving our natural heritage. If just one-tenth of Sub-Saharan Africa’s 1 billion people use one less plastic item (e.g. plastic bags, drinking straws, food wrappers) a week, there would be a reduction of 100,000,000 plastic items each week. People operating at the regional and global scales, such as company executives and government officials, also have an important task—ensuring that mechanisms are in place for all citizens to contribute to ensuring that future generations will inherit a healthier environment. Below, we offer a few holistic strategies towards a sustainable future.

    15.1 Achieving Sustainable Development

    Economic policies that favour growth are based on the erroneous assumption that natural resources are unlimited. It is thus bound to fail at one point or another.

    Efforts to preserve biological diversity are regularly perceived as in conflict with societal progress (Redpath et al., 2013). Perhaps the root of this conflict lies with the fact that most of the development we see today is unsustainable—that is, it risks depleting natural resources to a point where they will no longer be available for use or to provide ecosystem services. Moreover, governments and businesses often measure success in terms of economic growth, which occurs when an economy increasingly produces more goods and services (often measured as GDP). Economic policies that favour economic growth are generally based on an implicit but erroneous assumption that the supply of natural resources is unlimited. A society that aims for economic growth is therefore bound to fail at one point or another.

    To overcome these perceptions and conflicts, scientists, policy makers, and conservation managers are increasingly highlighting the need for sustainable development—economic activities that satisfy both present and future needs without compromising the natural world (Figure 15.1). Sustainable development is closely linked to economic development, a multi-dimensional concept that describes economic activities that aim to improve income and health without necessarily increasing consumption of natural resources. We should thus all strive for sustainable development, which emphasises economic development without unsustainable economic growth.

    Sustainable development aims to satisfies present and future needs without compromising the natural world.


    Figure 15.1 Sustainable development heals the rift between development and conservation; it aims to simultaneously meet conservation goals and human needs, CC BY 4.0.

    There are many good examples across Africa that illustrate the progress made towards sustainable development. For instance, many governments are investing in national parks and their infrastructure (such as staff and facilities) to protect biological diversity and provide economic opportunities for local communities. Similarly, stakeholders in large projects are increasingly engaging with one another to mitigate the negative impacts of infrastructure developments. One prime example was the 2015 Pan-African Business and Biodiversity Forum (, where representatives from business, governments, civil society, academia, development organisations, and financial institutions from across Africa came together to discuss how sustainable development can benefit nature, people, and business.

    Unfortunately, there are also people and organisations that are taking advantage of this positive energy by misusing the term “sustainable development” to greenwash industrial activities that are harming the environment. For instance, a plan to establish a palm oil plantation that would damage a forested wilderness should not be considered sustainable development simply because the company agrees to protect a small plot of forest adjacent to the damaged area (see biodiversity offsets, Section 10.3.3). Similarly, many environmentally-destructive companies try to mislead customers with “environmentally-friendly” (often green-coloured) imagery on packages which are otherwise no better than the standard manufactured products. It is, therefore, critical for scientists, policy makers, and citizens to carefully study the issues, understand why different groups make arguments, and make thoughtful decisions about which actions or policies will best meet seemingly contradictory demands.

    15.2 Dealing with Technological Advances

    Over the past several decades, we have experienced a boom in new technologies to make our lives easier, our work more efficient, and our lifestyles more sustainable. Conservation biologists have adopted many of these new technologies to great success (Pimm et al., 2015). Consider, for example, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to monitor environmental changes (Box 15.1), freely-available satellite imagery to monitor ecosystems (Section 10.1.1) and wildlife (Section 11.1.1), and molecular methods to monitor for wildlife crimes (Section 12.3.1). Hand-held devices that capture and send field data in real time are also increasing in popularity, as they enable conservation and law enforcement agencies to learn of and respond to threats much quicker than before (Wilson et al., 2019). To better streamline these efforts, there are groups such as Wildlabs which specialise in connecting the conservation community with engineers and entrepreneurs who develop such new technologies.

    Box 15.1 Not Just for War: Drones in Conservation

    Meg Boeni and Richard Primack

    Biology Department, Boston University,

    Boston, MA, USA.

    Many of us have experienced the difficulty of following a moving herd of zebras, elephants, or any other large mammal from a vehicle or on foot. But what if this could be done from the sky? Efforts, such as mapping threatened species habitat, monitoring deforestation, and even fighting forest fires, have been aided for over 40 years with an “eye in the sky” using satellite and other aerial imagery (Pettorelli et al., 2013). The recent emergence of drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), has begun to make it even easier to facilitate conservation efforts from above.

    Drone technology was originally developed for military applications but is fast becoming a vital resource to conservation biologists and natural resource managers. The increased popularity of drones in conservation is due to several distinct advantages. They are cheaper than airplanes or satellites; basic models that can fly up to 150 m high are available for around US $2,000. Because they operate from the ground, they are also less affected by weather conditions such as cloud cover. Drones can carry a range of sensors and equipment—video, thermal imaging, or sound—that allow them to detect organisms and ecological processes that would be impossible to study otherwise, especially at large scales. New organisations such as Conservation Drones have greatly facilitated discussions and innovations in this rapidly developing technology. Lastly, some governments are highly receptive to these new technologies. Leading the way is Rwanda, where regulators are setting the stage for an airport dedicated to civilian and commercial drones (Simmons, 2016).

    While conservationists are just beginning to explore the flexibility and applicability of drones, they have already proven their worth in African conservation initiatives (Figure 15.A). With encouragement from national park officials, drones have been used to survey elephant populations in Burkina Faso (Vermuelen et al., 2013) and chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes, EN) nests and fruiting trees in Gabon (van Andel et al., 2015). In South Africa, drones assist anti-poaching patrols in remote areas of national parks (Mulero-Pázmány et al., 2014). There are even discussions of using drones to plant trees in reforestation efforts, and to directly manage wildlife, such as deploying noise-making drones to block an elephant herd from entering farming areas.


    Figure 15.A A researcher launching a drone to monitor an ecosystem restoration project in Namibia. Monitoring forests and other aspects of biodiversity with drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, can be faster, cheaper, and safer, than from the ground or aircraft. Photograph by Miggan91,, CC BY-SA 4.0.

    Despite progress, a range of obstacles still must be overcome. For example, drones are often prohibited from flying near government buildings (which often includes conservation infrastructure); many countries also continue to uphold strict and arduous legal requirements for drone use. It is also important to remember that drones will never replace the need for rangers and researchers on the ground. They do however hold great promise in their potential to overcome some of the fundamental challenges that conservation biologists have always faced.

    While conservation biologists certainly benefit from new technologies, these advances sometimes pose new challenges. Hunters now use powerful guns and motorised vehicles where historically they used bows and arrows and walked on foot. Sea fishing industries have transformed from using small wind-powered and hand-powered boats to large motorised fleets with freezers that can stay at sea for months at a time. Some technologies are so powerful that they allow for the alteration of entire ecosystems in a relatively short span of time. Some of these transformations are intentional, such as the creation of dams and the conversion of new agricultural land; others, such as pollution, are negative by-products from human activities. The impacts of these developments on ecosystems and wildlife are enormous and ominous; they have also stimulated the growth, expansion, and evolution of conservation biology.

    Renewable energy sources are needed to create a sustainable society. They must also be evaluated for their environmental impact, with systems developed to mitigate those impacts.

    Technologies developed to achieve sustainable development may sometimes also present new conservation challenges. For example, to combat climate change, scientists and engineers are rushing to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels by developing carbon-neutral and energy efficient alternatives. As these renewable energy sources have become more assimilated into our everyday lives, their unintended consequences on the environment have also become better understood. We now know that large wind farms (Figure 15.2) pose a significant collision hazard to birds (Rushworth and Krüger, 2014) and bats (Frick et al., 2017), while large solar-panel arrays that concentrate sunlight can also expose wildlife to burning temperatures (Walston et al., 2016). The impacts of hydroelectric dams are cause for even more concern: in addition to harming local fisheries and freshwater biodiversity (Section 5.3.2), these and other artificial reservoirs also generate large amounts of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change (Deemer et al., 2016). Bioenergy also seems to create more problems than solutions, since it has become an important driver of habitat loss (Kleiner, 2007; see also Box 6.1). Similarly, hydrological fracturing for natural gas extraction—not in itself a carbon-neutral energy alternative but claimed to do less damage than coal and petroleum—has turned out to be so damaging to the environment and human health that several governments have now banned the practice (Section 7.1.1).


    Figure 15.2 Wind power is become a popular technology representing a greener future. Yet, like other forms of carbon-neutral energy, wind power also has serious negative impacts on biodiversity that need to be mitigated to be sustainable. Photograph by Lollie-Pop,, CC BY 2.0.

    Despite the challenges posed by emerging technologies, none have yet posed an insurmountable threat. For example, we have already solved the ozone crisis by banning harmful chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) (Section 12.2.1). We have also come a long way toward a sustainable fossil-fuel free world by setting guidelines for reducing the impact of wind power generation on wildlife (Reid et al., 2015; Martin et al., 2017), reducing the negative impacts of bioenergy production (Correa et al., 2017), safeguarding nuclear power stations and reusing nuclear waste (Heard and Brook, 2017), and developing more affordable solar power (Randall, 2016). It is important, however, to note that none of these emerging threats were solved by people who defended the status quo or resisted change, but by individuals who were alert and rapidly responded to new challenges before they reached a crisis point.

    Environmental challenges are not solved by defending the status quo or resisting change, but by being alert and rapidly responding to new challenges before they reach a crisis point.

    15.3 Funding Conservation Activities

    Much of the Earth’s biodiversity is concentrated in the tropics, a sizeable portion of which occurs in Africa. While people living in the tropics may be willing and eager to preserve the wildlife around them, they are often unable to accomplish the task due to funding constraints (James et al., 2001; McClanahan and Rankin, 2016). Because many of these areas experience high levels of poverty and rapid rates of population growth, the little aid these areas receive are generally diverted to short-term socio-economic programmes that ensure elected officials remain in power, rather than long-lasting sustainable solutions. This scenario is not limited to the tropics or to Africa. In fact, one of the biggest challenges facing conservation biologists across the world is inadequate funding—many areas lack basic operational funds for protected areas (Section 13.7.1), with even less for staff training, retaining top talent, keeping promises to local communities, and fulfilling the obligations set out in international treaties.

    There are many organisations that continuously work to fill these funding deficits. Prominently active in Africa are multilateral organisations, such as the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), as well as the World Bank in association with its partner organisations. A key World Bank partner organisation is the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility which helps countries in their REDD+ (discussed below) preparedness. Another is the Global Environment Facility (GEF), established to channel money from industrialised countries to conservation and environmental projects in developing countries. From 1991 to 2016, the World Bank-GEF partnership allocated over US $4 billion to more than 1,000 projects in Sub-Saharan Africa, with another $25 billion acquired through co-financing partnerships ( Prominent projects include a US $35 million project to reverse environmental damage at Central Africa’s Lake Victoria, a US $16 million project to strengthen community conservancies in Mozambique, and a US $13 million project to bolster management effectiveness at Zambia’s Kafue National Park.

    Another significant development has been the rise of NGOs that directly fund and manage conservation activities. NGOs rely on several funding mechanisms to accomplish their goals, including membership dues, donations from wealthy individuals, sponsorships from corporations, and grants from foundations and multilateral consortiums. NGOs use these funds to advance scientific research and conservation training, to implement large-scale conservation projects, and to develop locally-adapted conservation strategies (Shackeroff and Campbell, 2007), often in collaboration with local communities (Rodríguez et al., 2007). For example, BirdLife International provides alternative environmentally friendly income streams by training local guides to help tourists find rare and elusive bird species (Biggs et al., 2011); other NGOs train park rangers and wildlife biologists, set up ecotourism lodges, and create opportunities to sell hand-made crafts.

    Multilateral consortiums and nongovernmental conservation organisations (NGOs) have emerged as important supporters of local conservation projects.

    Another innovative funding approach, namely debt-for-nature swaps, leverages the huge international debt owed by developing countries to protect biodiversity. Major lenders (usually commercial banks or industrialised-country governments) have financed massive loans around the world, some of which they may never see repaid. One opportunity for the creditors to recoup some of this money is to restructure or sell the debt at a steep discount. Working with funders, investors, and development organisations, conservation groups may then buy a portion of these debts or help debtor country restructure this debt, in exchange for environmental commitments (in some cases, creditors may even directly engage with the debtor country). These commitments usually involve the debtor countries using the savings to annually fund, in their own currency, conservation activities, including enacting certain policies, acquiring lands for conservation, managing protected areas, and implementing conservation education programmes. In other words, freeing up money previously being spent to repay debt to now fund conservation activities. Some of the African countries that have benefitted from such debt swaps include Botswana, Cameroon, Ghana (Figure 15.3), Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, Seychelles, Tanzania, and Zambia (Sheikh, 2018). In one such example, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the French government, and a group of creditors known as the Paris Club negotiated a US $22 million debt restructuring deal with the Seychelles in exchange for the creation of a climate adaptation trust fund and increased marine protection. As part of the deal, the Seychelles agreed to increase its marine protected areas (MPA) network from 1% to 30% coverage (400,00km2), and to develop and implement a comprehensive spatial management plan for all its territorial waters (TNC, 2015).


    Figure 15.3 To stimulate sustainable ecotourism, a debt-for-nature swap agreement facilitated the creation of Ghana’s Kakum National Park to protect 375 km2 of tropical forest that was destined for agriculture. Part of the agreement included development of local museums, interpretive trails, and a canopy walk to create income streams for local communities. Photograph by flowcomm,, CC BY 2.0.

    Another new strategy to obtain conservation funding is payment for ecosystem services (PES) schemes. Through these programmes, governments, conservation NGOs, and businesses develop markets from which landowners can receive direct payments for protecting and restoring ecosystems and ecosystems services. In a pilot project funded and coordinated by WWF and CARE Kenya, 514 farmers living upstream of Kenya’s Lake Naivasha received US $20,000 in payments from water users downstream to restore and maintain riparian forests to improve flood control and water purification services (Chiramba et al., 2011).

    To combat climate change, a major international initiative financially rewards communities for preserving their carbon stocks. This initiative, established by the UN in 2007 and called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+, see also Section 10.4) receives its operational funds from individuals (such as people traveling on aeroplanes) and organisations seeking carbon credits to offset their carbon emissions. These funds are then used for results-based payments for conservation of carbon stocks such as forests and peatlands, the loss of which causes about 35% of Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions (WRI, 2018). Today, REDD+ has already supported carbon conservation projects in over 30 Sub-Saharan African countries ( Being a major component of the Paris Agreement (Section 12.2.1), many more projects will hopefully be supported in coming years.

    15.3.1 How effective is conservation funding?

    Despite all these conservation resources, conservation activities continue to be underfunded due to a mismatch between funding needs and availability (Watson et al., 2014; McClanahan and Rankin, 2016; Gill et al., 2017; Lindsey et al., 2018). Exacerbating these shortfalls, conservation budgets continue to be dwarfed by spending from competing human activities and well-funded special-interest groups. For example, while the US $1.2–2.4 billion annually needed to secure Africa’s protected areas with lions (Lindsey et al., 2018) is an enormous amount of money, it is much less than the US $26 billion in perverse subsidies that was paid to Africa’s fossil fuel industry in 2015 (Whitley and van der Burg, 2015), which in turn is dwarfed by the whopping US $640 billion the USA budgets for military defence (DOD, 2017).

    While conservation funding is increasing, it continues to be dwarfed by perverse subsidies and spending by well-funded special-interest groups.

    Many conservation projects are also constrained by weak institutional capacity, inappropriate nepotism, and even corruption in governments and NGOs (Section 2.4). There is sometimes a tendency for conservation organisations to compete, causing them to duplicate efforts in parallel rather than cooperating efficiently. Others spend a large percentage of their funds on maintaining extensive headquarters in expensive cities; these expenses are sometimes justifiable because of work on policy or advocacy, but they are sometimes wasteful and can come at a great cost to efforts in the field. Consequently, donors are increasingly worried about how funds earmarked for conservation will be spent—will funds be used to protect biodiversity and reducing poverty, or will they be diverted to other purposes? Thus, while new projects are often more effective, due in part to lessons learned from past experiences (Pooley et al., 2014), there is also a tendency to restrict funding to short-term cycles, and to add additional rules to prevent inappropriate spending. These additional constraints are making funding applications and accounting processes increasingly cumbersome and time-consuming, requiring even more time in the office than in the field. By focusing on short-term outcomes to meet reporting requirements, they also restrict grantees’ ability to invest in organisational resilience and staff development, to adapt to changing circumstances, and to incorporate new ideas mid-cycle (Nelson et al., 2017).

    Over the past few years, conservation groups have tried to develop several kinds of grassroots initiatives that can be low cost and self-sustaining. Among the most popular are privately protected areas, integrated conservation and development projects (ICDPs), and community-based natural resource management (CBNRM, Section 14.3) (Box 15.2). Other projects promote farming with native wildlife, such as snails (Carvalho et al., 2015) and cane rats (Thryonomys swinderianus, LC) (van Vliet et al. 2016) as a means to generate income while reducing pressure on wildlife targeted by the bushmeat trade (for a review on wildlife farming for conservation, see Tensen, 2016). To reduce human-wildlife conflict (Section 14.4), some communities have also found dual purpose in income-generating activities, such as beekeeping, and planting cash crops, such as tea and hot pepper plants, which also serve as barriers to nuisance animals.

    Box 15.2 Supporting Self-Organised Action for Conservation in Africa

    Duan Biggs1,2

    1Environmental Futures Research Institute,

    Griffith University,

    Nathan, Queensland, Australia.

    2School of Public Leadership & Department of Conservation Ecology,

    Stellenbosch University, South Africa.

    The conservation of biodiversity, especially outside of protected areas, faces ongoing budget constraints. One strategy to overcome such constraints is to facilitate and support individuals, communities, and organisations to self-organise to achieve positive conservation outcomes. Two terms are especially relevant in this regard: emergence (the coming about of new conservation initiatives and activities, McCay, 2002) and robustness (the durability and sustainability of these initiatives over time, Cox et al., 2010).

    Central to the emergence of robust self-organised conservation activities is the particular composition of actors around a site or region of conservation interest, as well as a context that supports experimentation and learning (Figure 15.B). For example, where community conservancies are able to try different income-generating activities (e.g. photographic tourism, trophy hunting) and learn from each other through supported networks, the conditions for emergence will be strengthened (Child, 1996; Naidoo et al., 2016).


    Figure 15.B The relationship between emergence and robustness as a support framework for the emergence of robust self-organised conservation activities. After Biggs et al., 2019, CC BY 4.0.

    Also important are governance structures that enable communities and societies to have a central voice in the formulation of rules and policies. In this way, decision-making structures are perceived to be legitimate, and people are more empowered to take ownership of decisions that have important implications for their livelihoods (Cox et al., 2010; Biggs et al., 2019). For example, the recent ban on the import of elephant hunting trophies from Africa into the USA reduced benefit flows to communities. In addition, this ban weakened the perceived legitimacy of decision-making structures as affected communities did not have a voice in deliberations over the ban.

    The final critical element is known as “nested enterprises”, which means the presence of multiple overlapping institutions that support emerging conservation initiatives and activities. Successful nested enterprises include local community-based groups which are linked to national and international NGOs and have representation in local and national government (Biggs et al., 2019). For example, NGO support to community conservancies in Namibia plays an important role in aiding conservancies to access support for challenges such as human-wildlife conflict and finding partner organisations for tourism development.

    Africa provides several notable examples where appropriate conditions have allowed for the emergence of self-organised conservation action on previously unprotected lands. A prominent example includes the development and expansion of privately protected area in Southern Africa (Box 2.3; Section 13.1.3). Another example is the development of community conservancy programmes, which have substantially extended the conservation estate and delivered socio-economic benefits in Kenya (Ihwagi et al., 2016) and Namibia (Naidoo et al., 2016; Störmer et al., 2019). Zimbabwe’s CAMPFIRE program (Box 14.4) has also contributed to the expansion of conservation land on a large scale and remains partially successful despite Zimbabwe’s current political crisis (Balint and Mashinya, 2008; Biggs et al., 2019). In each of these cases the conservation benefits have been substantial. For example, in Zimbabwe, elephant numbers on communal land increased from 4,000 to over 20,000 in just over a decade, while in Namibia, over 160,000 km2 of land now has stronger protections due to conducive conditions for emergence of self-organized conservation.

    Recent history has shown that the presence of structures that support the emergence of robust self-organised action for conservation can have substantial benefits to biodiversity and to people. But securing the future of such initiatives relies on striking a careful balance between letting local individuals, communities, and organisations “do their own thing”, and providing external support and guidance when needed.

    Further aiding these efforts is ecotourism, which has become a very lucrative market over the past few decades. Consequently, several private landowners and communal groups have converted their agricultural land into areas that maintain wildlife (Section 13.1). Some of these landowners cater to low-impact activities, such as bird watching (Figure 15.4) and guided safaris, while others offer hunting opportunities for wealthy individuals from North America, Europe, and Asia (Clements et al., 2016; Naidoo et al., 2016). The commercialisation of large, dangerous, and rare animals is particularly significant since more land in Africa is currently managed for regulated trophy hunting than national parks (IUCN/PACO, 2009; Flack, 2011). Because many rare and sought-after species targeted by trophy hunters require healthy ecosystems to thrive, other aspects of biodiversity also benefit, including the numerous birds, fish, insects, and plants that are not being commercially exploited in such game reserves.

    By reaping social and economic benefits from conservation, local communities have been inspired to take the lead in protecting biodiversity on their own lands.


    Figure 15.4 The yellow-headed rockfowl (Picathartes gymnocephalus, VU) is endemic to the mountain forests of West Africa from Guinea to Ghana. As one of Africa’s most sought-after birds, several protected areas and nature guides tailor their businesses to showing this species to traveling birders. Photograph by Nik Borrow, CC BY 4.0.

    Despite these conservation gains from the regulated hunting industry, legitimate concerns linger, including overcrowding and poor treatment of some animals, the ethics of trading and killing threatened species, and whether selective hunting and breeding complement or run counter to overall conservation objectives (Milner et al., 2007). The actual contribution of regulated hunting to society at large is also still being debated (IUCN/PACO, 2009; Murray, 2017), especially since some hunting concessions are established through land grabs and eco-colonialism (see Box 14.1). Similarly, there is also concerns that legal markets for threatened species may stimulate black markets and overharvesting (Lenzen et al., 2012; Hsiang and Sekar, 2016). Finding the balance between developing responsible trade opportunities in threatened species that can fund conservation activities, and risking overharvesting, is a highly emotional issue (e.g. Biggs et al., 2013a,b; Collins et al., 2013; Litchfield, 2013; Prince and Okita-Ouma, 2013) that conservation biologists will continue to grapple with in the coming years.

    In the end, given the importance of nature to human well-being, it is unfortunate that conservationists continue to struggle to obtain funding and other resources. Research has shown that under-funded conservation activities run a high risk of failure (McCreless et al., 2013) while the rush to monetise nature risks weakening protection of species without immediate or realised value (Muradian et al., 2013; Balding and Williams, 2016). This contrasts with investments in protecting the natural world, which could save trillions of dollars and benefit millions of people (Costanza et al., 2014; Shindell et al., 2016). We look forward to the day when governments and individuals shift some funding from perverse subsidies to industries such as fossil fuels and unsustainable fisheries (Section 4.5.3) to supporting more conservation organisations and activities.

    15.4 Building Lasting Partnerships

    Productive partnerships are one of the most important components of any successful conservation undertaking. Throughout this textbook, we have seen how successful partnerships can ensure effective law enforcement, sustainable development, ecosystem protection, and threat mitigation. Yet, many conservation projects continue to fail due to a lack of collaboration between community groups, scientists, and government leaders. Other projects fail due to unproductive partnerships, such as those relying too much on foreign consultants who lack the necessary understanding of cultural intricacies and organisational objectives in recipient countries (Mcleod et al., 2015). When considering conservation’s funding deficits, it is critical to wisely use what limited funds we have by maximising each project’s prospects for success. Accomplishing this task starts with partnership composition.

    15.4.1 Partnerships with local people

    One of the most important groups to partner with is local people, particularly those individuals who are directly affected, positively and sometimes not so positively—hopefully only in the short term—by conservation projects (Redpath et al., 2013; Hall et al., 2014). Conservation projects are significantly more likely to achieve their long-term goals when they incorporate local histories and find ways to work with existing relationships between local people and their land (Waylen et al., 2010; Oldekop et al., 2016). When local people understand and buy into a project’s goals and purposes, they may not only become partners in conservation, but also take on leadership roles in, or become activists for, environmental causes.

    When local people buy into a project’s goals and purposes, they may not only become partners in conservation, but also take on leadership roles in, or become activists for, environmental causes.

    Environmental monitoring by volunteer citizen scientists provides one of the prominent success stories involving local partnerships (Figure 15.5). For example, using hand-held devices (e.g. smart phones) with GPS capabilities, local communities are now able to map natural resources in their forests (, wildlife distributions (Box 15.3), and poaching hotspots (Edwards and Plagányi, 2008), as well as forest loss (DeVries et al., 2016) and human-wildlife conflict (Larson et al., 2016). In Ethiopia, citizen scientists are empowered to perform tasks usually reserved for specialists, such as maintaining long-term demographic studies on birds (Şekercioğlu, 2011). Even people that lack confidence can contribute to these efforts, through platforms such as iNaturalist which have automated features to help users identify unknown organisms they may encounter.

    Box 15.3 Tracking Species in Space and Time: Citizen Science in Africa

    Phoebe Barnard1,2

    1Biodiversity Futures Programme and Climate Change BioAdaptation,

    South African National Biodiversity Institute,

    Cape Town, South Africa.

    2Current Address:

    Conservation Biology Institute,

    Corvallis, OR, &

    University of Washington, Bothell,

    Bothell, WA, USA.

    Planners and managers all know that keeping their eye on the world around them is crucial for good decision-making. But even in the richest nations, it’s not always easy to gather enough data to get a detailed sense of environmental change in multiple dimensions—or even to keep track of what’s happening on the far side of a large national park, reserve, or mountain range.

    In Africa, perhaps even more than the rest of the world, the need for biodiversity monitoring data far outstrips the capacity of professional scientists to deliver it. And yet, in Namibia, South Africa, Eswatini, Lesotho, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Botswana, the combination of public interest in biodiversity, technology, and recreation is giving rise to highly motivated “armies” of civil society volunteers (Figure 15.C). These citizen scientists not only help create remarkably detailed, high-quality datasets, but also make aspirations for ecological study a reality.


    Figure 15.C Citizen science allows local people such as these birdwatchers from Limpopo, South Africa to make an important contribution to conservation biology. Photograph by Lisa Nupen, CC BY 4.0.

    Bird data, as in so many regions, form the crux of dynamic citizen science in Africa. There are atlas projects such as the Second Southern African Bird Atlas Project, Tanzania Bird Atlas, Kenya Bird Map, and Nigerian Bird delivering important data on bird distributions in space and time across key parts of the African continent. The best of these are linked directly with academic research and applied conservation planning, policy and management, to enable adaptive responses to global change challenges (Barnard et al., 2016). In South Africa, IUCN Red Data books, environmental impact assessments (EIAs), systematic conservation plans, and national biodiversity assessments are now based partly on bird atlas data, as are dozens of high impact journal publications. These datasets can highlight places where bird ranges are shrinking or numbers are declining, such as the secretarybird (Sagittarius serpentarius, VU) across Southern Africa (Figure 15.D), or expanding rapidly, such as the invasive common mynah (Acridotheres tristis, LC).


    Figure 15.D Distribution data collected by citizen scientists during the second South African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP2) (ongoing since 2007) have shown that the secretarybird has disappeared in many areas where it was recorded during the SABAP1 survey (1987-1991). Red squares show population decline or disappearance, yellow squares show stable populations, and green square show population increase. Survey squares are approximately 25 km2. Map courtesy of SANBI and University of Cape Town, CC BY 4.0.

    Citizen science-based biodiversity monitoring works well in countries in which at least part of the population is mobile, interested, and moderately educated. Despite these being quite daunting obstacles in some areas, there are several important initiatives that enable new citizen scientists to contribute to biodiversity monitoring, even by those with very limited or no literacy. One such example is MammalMap, a major initiative that uses camera traps to track important and visible taxa across the continent.

    Many of Africa’s most dynamic and productive citizen-science projects supporting conservation biology arise from the University of Cape Town’s Animal Demography Unit. The unit was founded in order to bring together civil society volunteerism, professional science, and conservation biology. The ADU, with its projects to monitor birds, frogs, butterflies, mammals, reptiles and other groups, deserves national and global investment as a powerful hub of cost-effective biodiversity monitoring.

    Citizen science helps track biodiversity in space and time, providing important snapshots of the state of the environment during times of dizzying environmental change. It also builds love, knowledge, and custodianship of biodiversity among people who need to re-connect with nature and find meaning in their lives. These volunteers contribute their time, fuel and energy towards national, regional and global causes. This is a crucial cause for biodiversity in Africa, which needs investment in order to spread to all levels of society.


    Figure 15.5 Under the guidance of a conservation biologist, a group of citizen scientists monitor lesser flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor, NT) and black crowned crane (Balearica pavonina, VU) at wetlands in Guinea. Photograph by Guinea Ecology, CC BY 4.0.

    There are many benefits to local involvement in biodiversity monitoring. For example, field data collected by citizen scientists—which are often as accurate as those collected by specialists (Danielsen et al., 2014; Schuttler et al. 2018)—allow biologists to obtain information from more areas more regularly and more cheaply than would be the case if specialists collected that same data. Local involvement also ensures that conservation decisions and actions are more effective and quicker to implement (Danielsen et al. 2010) and improves engagement, creating stronger advocates for conservation (Granek et al., 2008).

    15.4.2 Partnerships among conservation professionals

    Conservation biologists need to be more deliberate in fostering appropriate inter-organisational partnerships. Such partnerships enable new information to spread quicker and enable conservationists to learn from each other and to know whom to contact when advice is sought. Strategic partnerships also enable specialisation among organisations that they need not “do it all”. It allows sharing of scarce resources (e.g. trained volunteers, temporary staff, and citizen scientists) from one organisation to another when not being utilised at a time. It also facilitates better coordination of activities, particularly at large scales, which improves project efficiency (Kark et al., 2015) organisational resilience (Maciejewski and Cumming, 2015), and conservation outcomes (Bonebrake et al., 2019). Lastly, research in Uganda showed that involving a variety of partners, especially governmental authorities, from the outset results in faster project implementation (Twinamatsiko et al., 2014).

    Professional partnerships enable new information to spread quicker and enable conservationists to learn from each other and to know whom to contact when advice is sought.

    Prospective collaborators are generally already familiar with each other. However, at times appropriate collaborators may be outside one’s immediate network; this is especially true for conservation start-ups or people who have recently entered the field. In these cases, there are several effective strategies to foster new and effective partnerships. One of the best options is to attend professional meetings (Figure 15.6) such as those presented by the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB)’s Africa Section ( While this can be intimidating at first, it is worth thinking ahead of time how your own interests can be integrated with that of potential collaborators. At an organisational level, one can also contact a third party, such as the Africa Biodiversity Collaborative Group, which specialises in bringing appropriate partners together. Lastly, social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, ResearchGate) and biodiversity observation platforms (e.g. iNaturalist) serve to connect conservationists and naturalists from across the spectrum who wish to discuss their activities with other like-minded individuals in a more informal, less intimidating setting.


    Figure 15.6 Conferences provide a good opportunity to meet other conservation biologists and to establish new collaborations. Here are members of the SCB’s Africa Section after a business meeting at the 2015 International Congress for Conservation Biology, which was held in Montpellier, France. Photograph by Israel Borokini, CC BY 4.0.

    Like a marriage or friendship, professional partnerships also require constant maintenance (WWF, 2000). Project partners will invariably have different biases, objectives, and interests. They may also compete for the same funding sources, face historical legacies that complicate cooperation, or be confused about their roles in a project. It is therefore advisable for new partnerships to start small, and to take on little risk. For example, rather than initiating a project to save a high-priority species, it may be more conducive to gain experience by focussing on a less critical species or preparing a local sanctuary for a reintroduction. Once the foundation of the new partnership is set, steps can be taken towards expansion, for example by inviting new types of partners, and taking on more complex projects. More information on nurturing partnerships can be obtained by researching topics such as social-ecological system resilience, or by attending a course or workshop in organisational leadership fundamentals.

    15.5 Environmental Education and Leadership

    Every year, conservation biologists acquire a vast body of knowledge from projects all over Africa and beyond. Yet, this information is often only communicated at small working groups and specialised meetings, published as technical papers in scientific journals with expensive subscription fees, or worse, not communicated at all. This leaves the general public detached from conservation work which, in turn, gives them (especially people living in urban centres) a sense that they live independent from nature and the knowledge gained by scientists. It also creates opportunities for wilful ignorance, where citizens can normalize the environmental damage caused by their activities. To avoid these scenarios, conservation biologists need to be more proactive in outreach and environmental education, which aims to raise the public’s awareness and knowledge about the environment so they can adjust to live more sustainably.

    One of the best ways to raise the public’s environmental awareness is to involve them in local conservation projects, especially those that include fieldwork and site visits. Citizen science projects, as discussed above, present one of the most effective strategies. The public could also be invited to a guided tour where they are introduced to your organisation’s activities or provided with volunteer opportunities for stewardship workdays at a local protected area. During such workdays, ordinary citizens might help with tasks, such as invasive plant control, nest box installation, and recording wildlife behaviours. An effective public relations programme can also connect people who want to engage with conservation; such a programme may involve conservation exhibits in public spaces, articles written by conservation biologists for local magazines and newspapers, or public presentations.

    Children and youth are one of the most important audiences for environmental education and outreach efforts. Exposing children to the wonders of the natural world instils in them a personal sense of competence, ethics, and environmental awareness that will last a lifetime (Johnson et al., 2013). These children can also influence their parents’ attitudes and behaviour towards environmental issues (Damerell et al., 2013). Ignoring children during outreach events, or recruiting ill-prepared teachers (Nkambwe and Essilfie, 2012), may however turn children against the environment, which they may see as a dangerous place detached from their own lives (Adams and Savahl, 2013). It could also lead to nature deficit disorder, a situation where spending less time in nature leads to behavioural problems (Louv, 2005). Consequently, many conservation organisations are now sponsoring and establishing schools to ensure young children are exposed to the importance of the environment. Others are working with children by hosting school groups, screening documentaries, publishing children’s books, and offering field programmes and school outings to nearby protected areas.

    Exposing children to the wonders of the natural world instils in them a personal sense of competence, ethics, and environmental awareness that will last a lifetime.

    Environmental education and outreach cultivates the next cohort of conservation leaders. Today, young African conservationists can develop their leadership skills by pursuing funding opportunities to attend conferences and workshops, and fellowships to study at research institutes affiliated with local universities (Box 15.4). Some people might also be interested in the South African Wildlife College and College of African Wildlife Management, both which specialise in preparing students for a career in wildlife management. Several prestigious awards are also available that provide African youth conservation leaders with the resources they need to achieve their goals. Many conservation NGOs are also increasingly focussed on building leadership capacity through exposure to real-world conservation dilemmas. For example, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), combat pangolin poaching in Central Africa through a specially designed mentoring programme in which young conservationists shadow experiences professionals to learn best practices in field assessments, legal protection, and demand reduction.

    Box 15.4 The Contribution of Education Towards Conservation in Africa

    Shiiwua Manu1,2 and Samuel Ivande1,2

    1AP Leventis Ornithological Research Institute (APLORI),

    University of Jos Biological Conservatory,

    Laminga, Jos-East LGA, Nigeria.

    2Department of Zoology, University of Jos,


    Improving the capacity of local people to appropriately manage natural resources in their domain is vital and fundamental for the successful conservation of biodiversity. This is usually a core objective of several environmental conservation organisations. Approaches to achieve this have often ranged from organising awareness campaigns, establishing sustainable livelihood programmes, delivering workshops to provide technical support and training to individuals, local groups, government agencies and policy officers.

    One model to highlight is the A.P. Leventis Ornithological Research Institute (APLORI) model. APLORI, focused on academic training, founded a research institute and field station in 2001 to train graduate students at masters and doctorate levels in conservation biology, and to facilitate research in a tropical savannah environment (Figure 15.E). APLORI is in the Amurum Forest Reserve—one off Nigeria’s key Important Bird Areas—and was established following an understanding between the Leventis Foundation, the University of Jos, Nigeria Conservation Foundation, and the Laminga community of Jos East—the reserve’s host community.


    Figure 15.E (Top) Dayo Osinubi, contributor to the African-Eurasian Migratory Landbirds Action Plan, participates in a workshop aimed at developing local capacity to influence policy at various levels across Africa. (Bottom) Shiiwua Manu fitting a unique ring onto the legs of a masked weaver (Ploceus spp.) during an APLORI mist netting session. Photographs by Will Cresswell, CC BY 4.0.

    One key vision of the institute is to train and equip the students who will eventually be in the driving seat of ecological and conservation research and policy in the region. To date, APLORI has trained 104 students at the master’s level, with about 37 of these graduates going on to pursue doctorate degrees. APLORI is also host to many research projects needing a West African base; so far it has supported tropical ecological research for over 25 researchers from various leading universities across Europe and America. This also ensures that students at APLORI benefit from the expertise of visiting researchers.

    After 14 years of APLORI’s existence, its graduates have begun to occupy key positions working at the frontlines to advance ecological research in the region. Of the Institute’s 104 graduates, 88% are actively engaged in teaching and research and are influencing policy at various universities, NGOs, and governmental agencies across Africa at various levels. At least four of these graduates are in leadership positions in important NGOs in the region including BirdLife Africa, Flora & Fauna International in Liberia, and A.G. Leventis Foundation.

    The involvement of these graduates has greatly advanced the scope and quality of ecological research in the region. This is evidenced by the over a hundred published articles in international journals. A review of the research projects and publications from the institute indicates that the research scope is steadily advancing from simple biodiversity inventories and distribution updates to more detailed studies of population trends and dynamics, as well as aspects of animal behaviour, foraging, breeding, and genetic and molecular studies of tropical species and Palearctic migrants.

    Much of APLORI’s research uses birds to better understand the tropical environment. For example, observing breeding and migratory movements of some Afrotropical species like Abdim’s stork (Ciconia abdimii, LC), black coucal (Centropus grillii, LC), rosy bee-eater (Merops malimbicus, LC), and the African cuckoo (Cuculus gularis, LC), have contributed to improve our knowledge of how seasonality influences their use of the Afrotropical landscape (Ivande et al., 2012; Cox et al., 2012, 2014). Similarly, studies of Palearctic migrants in the Afrotropics have revealed ecological flexibility in non-breeding habitat occupancy (Ivande and Cresswell, 2016) as well as high within-winter survival and site fidelity in species like whinchats (Saxicola rubetra, LC) which have returned to the very same winter territories every year (Wilson and Cresswell, 2006; Blackburn and Cresswell, 2015a,b). Constant Effort Site mist netting of birds, which was initiated at APLORI in 2002, has also improved our understanding of migratory passage times and survival in tropical environments (McGregor et al., 2007; Iwajomo et al., 2011) while other projects have used birds to highlight the effects of habitat fragmentation on biodiversity (Manu et al., 2005, 2007).

    The location of APLORI in the Laminga community represents an effective model of successful community development projects associated with conservation projects in an area. For example, all APLORI’s field assistants and support staff are employed from the community thus ensuring improved livelihoods as well as conservation skills for these individuals. This is in addition to the other community projects including: establishment of community woodlots, repair of access roads, construction of a community borehole for water, a police post, and a piggery, all of which contribute to livelihoods in the community.

    Certainly, Africa with its increasing population and the attending anthropogenic pressures still needs more skilled personnel to adequately manage and conserve its vast natural resources. The APLORI model highlights the vital contribution that quality academic training and education can make.

    Reaching people who are not usually attracted to nature-based activities remains a challenge. One option is to blend conservation education and outreach with attractions and activities without an obvious conservation link. Sporting events have proven very successful in this regard. For example, an annual half marathon hosted inside South Africa’s Kruger National Park has become an important opportunity to attract new people to conservation while also raising conservation funds. Another example is the Maasai Olympics, held every second year in Kenya’s Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem, which raises conservation awareness within the local community. Local NGOs such as the Korup Rainforest Conservation Society (KRCS) in Cameroon raises funds from membership fees; these fees are then used to host football games between local youths and park rangers, and to buy farm equipment awarded to the winners in exchange for environmental commitments. Music concerts at botanical gardens (Figure 15.7) and national parks (e.g. have also successfully exposed new audiences to environmental issues.


    Figure 15.7 Conservation facilities such as Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, South Africa, are attracting new people to their work by hosting concerts and other types of entertainment offers. Photograph by Ivan Hendricks, courtesy of Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, CC BY 4.0.

    Africa is in desperate need of the next generation of conservation heroes who are up to the task of addressing a growing list of complex problems. We have learnt much over the past few decades about how to better protect the natural environment in the face of growing human populations, increased consumption, and socio-economic transformations. We have also developed strong foundations in environmental education and leadership that will help us reach more people and cultivate stronger leaders. But many ecosystems continue to be in a state of distress, many species are facing extinction, and many people continue to live indifferent to their environment. The time for action is now.

    15.6 Summary

    1. The field of conservation biology has set itself some imposing tasks: to describe Earth’s biological diversity, to protect what remains, and to restore what is damaged. It is also a crisis discipline because decisions often need to be made under pressure, with limited resources, and under tight deadlines. A long-term conservation vision is also needed that extends beyond the immediate crisis.
    2. Efforts to preserve biodiversity while overcoming conflicting human needs can be accomplished by striving towards sustainable development—economic development that satisfies both present and future needs without unsustainable economic growth that is compromising the natural world.
    3. New technologies have greatly aided conservation efforts but have also created new challenges. Emerging threats are never solved by people who defend the status quo or resist change, but by individuals who rapidly respond to new challenges as soon as they arise.
    4. One of the biggest challenges facing conservation biologists is inadequate funding. Fortunately, an increasing number of mechanisms are being established to fill funding voids, including multilateral funding consortiums, debt-for-nature swaps, payments for ecosystem services, and a range of grassroots initiatives.
    5. To avoid leaving urban citizens detached from nature, conservation biologists need to reach out and educate the public, and particularly children, about their work. This can be achieved through citizen science projects, field programmes for the public, and writing materials suitable for adults and children for newspapers, magazines, and websites.

    15.7 Topics for Discussion

    1. Think of a very important conservation challenge facing your local area. How much funding do you think would be needed to address the problem? What types of funding sources would you pursue? What are the most important benefits you would highlight to the granting agency to convince them to fund the project?
    2. Several initiatives have tried to generate rural income by offering trophy hunting and wildlife viewing opportunities. Do you think these two activities are compatible with each other? What ethical, economic, political, environmental, and social issues does each initiative raise?
    3. The world is moving away from fossil fuels towards renewable, carbon-neutral energy solutions, prominently solar energy, wind energy, nuclear energy, hydropower, and bioenergy. Make a list of benefits and drawbacks of each renewable energy solution. Which renewable energy solution do you think is the best, and which is the worst? What do you think is the best way to generate energy in your region and why?
    4. How has studying conservation biology changed your lifestyle or level of political activity? How do you think you can make the biggest difference in protecting biodiversity?
    5. Which section of this textbook appealed to you the most and why?

    15.8 Suggested Readings

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    Pooley, S., J.A. Mendelsohn, and E.J. Milner-Gulland. 2014. Hunting down the chimera of multiple disciplinarily in conservation science. Conservation Biology 28: 22–32. Projects combining conservation and development often fail due to their complexity, but it is important to learn from them so that mistakes are not repeated.

    Waylen, K.A., A. Fischer, P.J.K. McGowan, et al. 2010. Effect of local cultural context on the success of communitybased conservation interventions. Conservation Biology 24: 1119–29. Conservation actions need to be tailored to local conditions.

    Joseph, L.N., R.F. Maloney, and H.P. Possingham. 2009. Optimal allocation of resources among threatened species: A project prioritization protocol. Conservation Biology 23: 328–38. Prioritising conservation spending can increase spending efficiency.

    Kark, S., A. Tulloch, A. Gordon, et al. 2015. Cross-boundary collaboration: Key to the conservation puzzle. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 12: 12–24. Conservation collaborations have many benefits, but also drawbacks that need to be considered.

    Muradian, R., M. Arsel, L. Pellegrini, et al. 2013. Payments for ecosystem services and the fatal attraction of winwin solutions. Conservation Letters 6: 274–79. Innovative funding strategies also have their downsides.

    Redpath, S.M., J, Young, A. Evely, et al. 2013. Understanding and managing conservation conflicts. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 28: 100–09. Many conservation conflicts can be solved through open dialogue.

    Swaisgood, R.R., and J.K. Sheppard. 2010. The culture of conservation biologists: Show me the hope! BioScience 60: 626–30. While it is easy to feel hopeless about conservation, certain activities can turn that despair into hope.


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