Conservation: the Human, the Wildlife and why we do it

Dr Hannah Mumby

Biodiversity is recognised as essential for the existence of life on Earth. However, it is threatened by habitat loss, invasive species, the unsustainable use of natural resources, climate change and other, primarily anthropogenic, forces. Conservation aims to maintain biodiversity or limit or reverse its loss. Despite the existence of conservation as an academic discipline, a central focus of many governmental and non-governmental organisations and a recurrent theme in the media, biodiversity loss has accelerated. Why?

This course aims to address why we do conservation and what it really is by critically evaluating our ideas about humans, animals and the risks and decisions we make in conservation. We will begin by deconstructing our views about conservation – from the stakeholders, the focus and the context to the systems involved. The course then focuses on one of the prevailing paradigms in conservation today – human-centred conservation, both by placing it in its historical context, and reflecting on what the “human” is in that context, and how that defines our perspective on conservation. We will then explore the other side of conservation that it creates – the non-human biotic components and the abiotic components of the habitats they inhabit, with particular focus on the non-human animals in systems. In the seminars, we will discuss animals in conservation, with reference to literature on comparative ecology, life history and cognition. We will use these theoretical concepts and evidence from empirical studies to return to some of the wicked problems in conservation, re-evaluate them and reflect on how they can be integrated both into framing questions and rendering solutions.

Intended Audience

This course is at the interface of animal behaviour, conservation science and human dimensions of conservation (although it challenges the definitions behind those traditional disciplinary boundaries as it crosses them). It would therefore be relevant to students from a range of social and natural science backgrounds, with interests from psychology, zoology, behaviour, geography, environmental policy and management. Any student with an interest in the course content and a desire to engage with the ideas and material is most welcome.

Previous Knowledge

This course has no pre-requisite requirements. Students with prior knowledge of zoology, conservation science and conservation policy are welcome to bring this knowledge to the course and encouraged to critically analyse it.

Transferable Knowledge and Skills

The primary aim of this course is to unpick the perspectives that underlie our perception of humans and wildlife, and how this affects the way we do science and conservation. These principles of reflexivity, understanding the history and context of scientific studies and how science feeds into practice and policy are transferable.