Oxford scientist is named British conservation hero

12 May 2015

Professor David Macdonald, founding Director of Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), has been ranked third in a list of Britain’s 50 most influential conservation heroes. In The Wildlife Power List Professor Macdonald is ranked ahead of Sir David Attenborough (4th) and behind broadcaster Chris Packham (2nd) and conservationist Jane Goodall (1st).

The Wildlife Power List was announced by BBC Wildlife Magazine and is published in the May issue (on sale 13 May). Those featured were chosen by panel of experts based on who they believe will have the biggest impact on wildlife in the next decade.

Professor Macdonald, the highest ranked University conservationist, has made an impact not only as an academic but also as an author, film-maker, and policy adviser. Until recently he was Chairman of both Defra’s Darwin Initiative, which delivered British projects in less developed countries, and Chairman of Natural England’s Science Advisory Committee, influencing policy at home. In 2010 he was made a CBE for his scientific contributions which famously involved research on foxes and badgers in England and meerkats in the Kalahari, along with species ranging from lions to capybaras, and mink to the iconic Scottish wildcat – producing a diverse portfolio of more than a thousand scientific papers.

Professor Macdonald has also trained a generation of conservation biologists, including more than 80 Oxford DPhils from over 30 countries who now leave a legacy around the world. His brainchild, the post-graduate Diploma in International Wildlife Conservation Practice at the Recanati-Kaplan Centre, was a significant factor in winning for Oxford in 2011 the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education. But above all, he is famous for conceiving and founding the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit – the WildCRU, the first university-based conservation research unit in Europe.

Professor David Macdonald said: ‘I am bowled over and proud to have reached such dizzy heights on this prestigious list, and my good fortune reflects the tireless commitment of the WildCRU team. Conservation is no longer the domain of the bearded, green-wellied, few – it is at the heart of societal choices about how humanity is to live alongside, and to support and be supported by, Nature. Conservation, from groundedness to geopolitics, is about the biggest decisions of our Age, regarding mankind’s impact on the environment. What might once have been considered a fringe interest to nature enthusiasts is now revealed as fundamental to the human enterprise and its politics – that is why conservationists need influence and this marvellous BBC Wildlife list suggests they are acquiring it.’

Speaking about the Wildlife Power List, BBC Wildlife Magazine editor Matt Swaine said: ‘These are the people who we believe will shape the way we see the natural world in the coming years and who have the greatest potential to deliver a positive outcome for wildlife both in the UK and abroad.’

Professor Macdonald founded WildCRU in 1986 to apply original scientific research to achieve practical solutions to conservation problems. Based within Oxford’s Department of Zoology, and Lady Margaret Hall, it was the first university-based institute to focus on wildlife conservation research. It has its headquarters at the Recanati-Kaplan Centre at Tubney House, Oxfordshire.

Currently the WildCRU includes over 50 researchers working from Borneo to Brazil, and Scotland to Myanmar, on projects that range from the impact of trophy hunting on lions to that of rabies of Ethiopian wolves. Increasingly, WildCRU researchers are interdisciplinary, spanning natural and social sciences and striving to benefit both wildlife conservation and associated human development. Macdonald has tended to specialise on carnivores, from badgers to lions and mink to giant otters, with his current priority being clouded leopards and their shrinking forest habitats in South East Asia.

The WildCRU has a residential training facility for its Diploma students, knows as the “WildCRU Panthers” in recognition of the unit’s world-leading expertise in felid biology and conservation. Current “Panthers”, undertaking intensive training, hail from Myanmar, Guatemala, Iran, Zimbabwe, Kenya and beyond.

In the 1980s, he made the award-filming documentary Meerkats United, which followed mongooses in the desert, and has been watched by 500 million people and he is also the author of a series of books on natural history (including Running with the Fox, The Velvet Claw, and the Encyclopaedia of Mammals). In 2010 he was made a Commander of the British Empire in recognition of his contributions to science (he has also won the highest medals of both the American and the British Societies for the study of Mammals).

Full biography: http://www.wildcru.org/members/professor-david-macdonald-cbe-dsc-frse/

For more information contact the Oxford University News Office on +44 (0)1865 283877 or email [email protected]


Recent portrait of Professor David Macdonald in the field in Brazil: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/44078414/IMG_1320.JPG

Professor David Macdonald in a Sumatran rainforest: https://www.dropbox.com/s/on4sl44gczirfm6/IMG_0988.JPG?dl=0

Professor David Macdonald with cheetah: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/44078414/David%20with%20Cheetah.jpg

Notes to editors:

  • More about WildCRU:

WildCRU’s team of graduate and post-doctoral researchers travel the world studying endangered species: their work takes them from the Scottish Highlands to Africa, Patagonia to the forests of Borneo. In the UK its researchers are investigating the impact of invasive species such as crayfish and mink on the river Thames, declining hedgehogs and toad populations, the role of badgers in bovine tuberculosis on UK farms, and the rare Scottish wildcat. Elsewhere its efforts include anti-rabies measures to help protect the endangered Ethiopian wolf, conservation research on big cats such as clouded leopards in Borneo and cheetah in Botswana and marbled cats in Laos.

Many of WildCRU’s projects involve local people, either as volunteers or employees, and promote community involvement and practical action, influencing governments in the conservation of endangered species and their fragile ecosystems. Meanwhile the Postgraduate Diploma in International Wildlife Conservation Practice, launched in 2009, offers opportunities for conservation practitioners in developing countries to access world-class training. See: http://www.wildcru.org/