Message from David Macdonald

In March 2019 we convened and hosted the first Conservation Geopolitics Forum, held at Worcester College in Oxford, the College where our Kadas Senior Research Fellow in Conservation Geopolitics is affiliated. The CGF was the culmination of more than five years exploration by a small group of us at WildCRU, as I describe in my presentation. When we began that journey, as professionals in biological conservation, we were increasingly aware that while biology was necessary it was not sufficient to deliver modern conservation. The WildCRU’s mission is to achieve practical solutions to conservation problems through original scientific research. We aspired to blend grounded, evidence-based, practical solutions for the well-being of both people and wildlife, with a holistic, transdisciplinary journey towards a high level geopolitical framework that facilitates and enables the potential for coexistence of people and biodiversity – in short, a journey from groundedness to geopolitics that strives to provide an answer to the question, where next? (as posed on page 15 et seq. of Macdonald 2019). In addition to a conviction that the answer lay in transdisciplinarity, we thought it important that it took account of the evolutionary and ecological roots of human behaviour (an approach we called natural governance, (Macdonald et al., 2018). In coining the term Conservation Geopolitics we sought to embrace all those factors beyond biology, many of them with a spatial context, that are necessary to understanding how best the human enterprise in the 21st Century can coexist with nature (more formally we defined conservation geopolitics as the geographic linkages between conservation outcomes and the political, social, and economic arrangements within, and relationships between, countries ). In the months since the CGF, having heard similar usage almost daily in radio and television news items, it seems reasonably clear what we are talking about. Our five years of exploration, building collaborations with economists, lawyers, ethicists, and culminating in the CGF, is the end of one journey, and we hope the beginning of another.


The Forum Films have more content and enlightenment than the average textbook. Skilfully prepared by our talented videography team led by Amy Hong, the videos present some sixteen plenary talks by the exceptional thought-leaders who joined the CGF. You can see a short taster here. I hope you will listen to and enjoy this bookful of information and inspiration – please circulate the link to this page widely.


As it turned out, the CGF exceeded our aspirations, and of the 191 attendees (112 presenters), a heart-warming majority was at pains to tell me they found it enthralling and inspiring. In total we had 75 talks from every nook and cranny of the scholarly intersections with conservation. It’s hard to define the borders between different disciplines, but certainly we had more that a dozen disciplines in the room. In addition to a good number from Europe (126), North America (14) and Australia (4), I am especially pleased that we had people with us from 9 African countries (Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe), 7 Asian countries (China, Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Lao, Singapore), Iran from the Middle East, and 5 from Latin America (Argentina, Chile, Columbia, Peru, Mexico, Uruguay).  What a pleasure to have this cosmopolitan group being hosted by the WildCRU (which itself currently comprises 35 nationalities in our team).


We were also honoured by the trouble that global figures took to join us. For example, Inger Anderson, en route from being Director General of IUCN to being Director General of UNEP altered her flights to deliver her plenary. Edmond Mukala of UNESCO, Maxwell Gomera of UNEP, Kristina Rodina of FAO all went to similar pains to join us, as did Rory Stewart, soon after being promoted to the British Cabinet and who gained remarkable prominence in his recent bid to be Britain’s Prime Minister, dashed from a parliamentary debate to deliver his speech to us. We were honoured that the Vice Chancellor of the University of Oxford joined us and spoke so generously of the University’s support of WildCRU’s work as part of Oxford’s famous Zoology Department. I am so grateful to them all.


Countless people have urged me to build on this start, and so we are already planning the next Forum, and having learnt a lot from the first one our sights are set even higher for next time.


In the meantime, let me mention now that, together with Alexandra Zimmermann and the IUCN Human-Wildlife Conflict Task Force, I am organising a conference on a related topic: Human-Wildlife Conflict and Coexistence in Oxford (1-3 April 2020) - do please come to join us for that too.