University of Leicester eBulletin

Can People and Wildlife Co-exist in the African Savannah?

March 2003
No 65

World Expert at University of Leicester for Conservation Lecture Series

by Sophie Cash

A man who has dedicated his life to resolving the question of whether people and wildlife can co-exist in the African Savannah will return to the University of Leicester as an honorary graduate to give a series of three lectures in March.

Dr David Western, a former student of the University, has been described as a world authority on community-based conservation. Currently Chairman of the African Conservation Centre, and former head of Kenya Wildlife Service, he has experienced at first hand the conflict between conserving wildlife within the national parks, and meeting the needs of the poor communities living alongside the wildlife heritage of Africa. 

It is ironic that such a high-profile conservationist should be the son of a big-game hunter. But growing up surrounded by the natural beauty of Tanzania inspired a love for wild Africa and a life devoted to understanding the human versus animal dynamic of savannah ecosystems. 

David Western speaks fluent Swahili and has worked alongside the Kenyan Masai tribe of warrior-pastoralists for many years. Thus he can boast an intimate understanding of the inter-relationships between growing human populations outside the national parklands, and the falling Kenyan biodiversity, especially in areas outside the national protected areas.

He received an honorary Doctor of Science from the University of Leicester last July, in recognition of his achievements in wildlife conservation. On his return to the University his first two lectures are entitled Amboseli: The Ecology of a Savannah Ecosystem and Conserving the African Savannahs.

Issues which will be examined include the forces shaping savannah ecosystems - by drawing on evidence from a 35-year study of the Kenyan Amboseli National Park ecosystem; the savannah diversity; threats to biodiversity and the importance of a taking a pluralistic approach to conservation by combining local, national and international efforts. 

The remaining lecture in the series, entitled The Two Cowboys: Conservation and Globalisation will compare the lifestyles of American ranch cowboys and East African Masai herdsmen, and how a novel ‘everyday living’ approach to conservation has put them together in a bid to preserve the welfare of their lands and people.   

This lecture will mark the launch of an annual David Balbi Memorial Lecture. Dr Balbi, who sadly died last June, did all his formal studies at the University of Leicester, having initially left school to be a garage mechanic. Qualifications in the University’s Institute of Lifelong Learning led to his BSc in Ecology and Biology, and he then went on to work for the Environmental Agency’s Anglian Region. At the same time he used the work to write his doctoral dissertation at the University of Durham on eutrophication (nutrient enrichment) of the River Nene in Northamptonshire.

The lecture will be chaired by Professor John Benyon, Director of the University’s Institute of Lifelong Learning. A brief account of his life will be given by Dr David Harper, Department of Biology, and Dr Alastair Ferguson, a senior scientist in the Environmental Agency. 

NOTES FOR EDITORS:  For more information, contact David Harper, Department of Biology, Office 0116 252 3346, mobile 07779 622 082.

Dr David Western lecture series:

Wednesday, March 19, 1.30pm: 
Amboseli: The Ecology & Conservation of a Savannah Ecosystem
Lower Ground Lecture Theatre LG26, Adrian Building, University of Leicester

Thursday, March 20, 10.30am: 
Conserving the African Savannahs 
Lower Ground Lecture Theatre 8, Bennett Building, University of Leicester

Friday, March 21, 7.15pm: 
The Two Cowboys: Conservation and Globalisation
Vaughan College, St Nicholas Circle, Leicester


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