Developing the next generation of wildlife conservation leaders

A unique postgraduate diploma, run by Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, is helping to develop the next generation of international wildlife conservation leaders in the Global South .


Photo credit: Egil Dröge

The mission of Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) is to achieve practical solutions to conservation problems through original research. Since 2009, the Recanati-Kaplan Centre Postgraduate Diploma in International Wildlife Conservation Practice has been turning research into practice by training the next generation of conservation leaders from the Global South.

The Diploma, a joint initiative between the Department for Continuing Education and Department of Zoology (now Biology), has now trained over 120 students from 47 countries – with 96% coming from the Global South and nearly 50% of these from Africa.

‘We wanted to do something to change the model of ‘parachute’ conservation science in which Northern researchers fly in to do field work in the South with little or no knowledge transfer to local practitioners,’ explains course Director Professor Claudio Sillero. ‘There are many talented, passionate conservationists in the South, but it’s often hard for them to access suitable training and develop their professional expertise, so we designed the diploma to help fill this gap.’

The course follows a unique format, which is different to traditional Master’s degrees and the professional development courses usually run by the Department for Continuing Education. Numbers are limited to less than ten a year and students live together in dedicated accommodation, fostering a global network for on-going peer support. Most places are fully funded by scholarships from the Recanati-Kaplan Foundation, channelled through the conservation organisation Panthera, to enable students from biodiversity-rich but resource-scarce contexts to participate. And recognising that students come from very different educational backgrounds, the emphasis is on providing individual support and teaching.

The Diploma teaches cutting-edge techniques for monitoring and management of wildlife and their habitats and covers the full range of practical and managerial skills needed by those working at the sharp end of conservation.

Sillero says: ‘The course covers traditional conservation research skills, such as biodiversity monitoring, behavioural ecology, habitat assessment, population management and understanding the human dimensions of conservation. But we also include the practical skills needed by field conservationists, such as first aid training, project management skills, and writing proposals and funding bids.’

Course Coordinator, Dr Egil Dröge, comments: ‘It’s wonderful to work with the students and see them develop their professional skills and confidence over the eight-month course. And we are constantly amazed to see where our students go next. Nearly 50% of alumni go on to do PhDs, and many take up leadership positions in government and Non-Governmental Organisations. Former students include a UNDP programme coordinator, a World Conservation Society Country Director in Myanmar, and the Director of the Bombay Natural History Society.’

‘Wildlife conservation isn’t just about protecting lions or tigers because they are beautiful or striking,’ continues Sillero. ‘It’s about ensuring that animals and humans can co-exist to the benefit of both. And it’s vital to protect the biodiversity that is so essential to maintaining planetary health and tackling climate change. Already we’re seeing how our students are making a difference. In Zimbabwe, for example, one alumnus has developed a mobile pen to protect livestock which, by keeping cows in one place, also increases dung collection, which has helped increase maize yields! And there are many more examples of innovation and good practice that have been inspired by the course.’

‘The Diploma offers a great example of how we can design courses to be more inclusive and diverse, whilst still maintaining academic rigour and quality. We plan to develop and diversify our funding in the coming year, to expand our intake, and increase our impact – building essential human resources to protect wildlife and wild spaces.’

Claudio Sillero is Professor of Conservation Biology, WildCRU, Department of Biology and Course Director of the Recanati-Kaplan Centre Post-Graduate Diploma in International Wildlife Conservation Practice

Egil Dröge is Course Coordinator/Lead Tutor of the Recanati-Kaplan Centre Post-Graduate Diploma in International Wildlife Conservation Practice

Funders: Panthera, The Recanati-Kaplan Foundation