Our team is based at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and has two Directors: Professor Justin O’Riain in Biological Sciences, and Professor Nicoli Nattrass in Economics. Our executive team includes three senior postgraduate students who have the portfolios of administration (Michelle Blanckenberg), media and public relations (Joselyn Mormile), and research support (Matthew Rogan). This supports inclusive decision making, ensuring that the needs and insights of students are properly incorporated into the institute’s strategy.
Our advisory board consists of five UCT staff members, including the deans of both the Science and Commerce faculties, the Head of Department for Biological Sciences, the manager for the Percy Fitzpatrick Institute Centre of Excellence, and Professor Edwin Muchapondwa from Economics.
Postgraduate students form the bulk of the institute’s research team. iCWild currently has 33 postgraduates, including 13 doctoral students, 12 Masters students and eight honours students. Student projects cover a range of topics and focus on a range of species. Our collaborations with conservation NGOs and professional bodies greatly increases our capacity to fund and educate these young scientists in conflict research. Our capacity is further strengthened by eight honorary research associates, and two postdoctoral fellows.
Justin O'Riain, iCWild Director
Professor Justin O’Riain is a behavioural ecologist with a special interest in understanding and mitigating conservation conflicts in southern Africa. He obtained his PhD at UCT in 1996 on the evolution of sociality in naked mole-rats with a subsequent postdoc on meerkats with the Universities of Cambridge and Paris. Gainful employment took the form a senior lectureship at UCT in 2002 and he is currently a full professor and Director of iCWild. Justin's goal is to grow iCWild into an international brand of interdisciplinary research excellence with both local and global impact in the field of conservation conflicts.
Within the fields of behavioural ecology and conservation biology, Justin continues his long-term work on the proximate and ultimate causes of sociality in mammals while including a strong research emphasis on the importance of behavioural studies in deriving sustainable solutions to mammal species in conflict with humans in southern Africa.
Justin is Academic Advisor to three NGOs (Panthera, Cape Leopard Trust and Save our Seas Foundation) and currently leads projects funded by Forestry South Africa, WWF South Africa, and the National Research Foundation. He is the recipient of the prestigious NRF Presidents Award, UCT Young Fellows Award, and UCTs Distinguised Teacher Award.
Nicoli Nattrass, iCWild Director
Prof Nicoli Nattrass is a development economist in the School of Economics at UCT with an inter-disciplinary background in social science. She has a doctorate from Oxford (where she was a Rhodes Scholar) and is a regular visiting professor at Yale where she teaches a course on Human-Wildlife Conflict in Africa.
Nicoli won the UCT teachers award in 2001 and has twice won the UCT book award: in 2005 for 'The Moral Economy of AIDS in South Africa', and in 2014 for 'The AIDS Conspiracy: Science Fights Back'. Her published work (80 journal articles and 11 books) is predominantly on the political economy of inequality and health in South Africa, the interface between science and society, and more recently, on human-wildlife conflict. See here and here.
Nicoli’s work in iCWild focusses on the socio-economic determinants of poison use, and the role of science, economics and culture in shaping policy and practice. She conducts mixed-methods (quantitative and qualitative) research including conducting and analysing social surveys, focus groups, in-depth interviews and historical research.
Ongoing research projects in iCWild:
Jacqueline Bishop, Department of Biological Sciences
Dr Jacqui Bishop's research interests centre on the use of molecular, behavioural and ecological data to understand the relative contributions of genetic drift and selection in shaping variation in natural populations of vertebrates. This involves a range of molecular and analytical approaches to elucidate evolutionary genetic history from the level of individuals and parentage assignment to the analysis of genes, populations and species. Jacqui also has an ongoing interest in the evolutionary drivers of mate choice behaviour, together with understanding the relative importance of adaptive genetic variation in free-living populations, and working within this framework she uses a number of taxa as models to test current theories. These have included crocodiles, rhinoceros, baboons and mole-rats, and more recently seabirds, bats and marine fish.
Arjun Amar, Department of Biological Sciences
Arjun Amar is an Avian Conservation Biologist with a focus on raptor conservation. He grew up in Nottingham, England and obtained a BSc Hons in Zoology from Newcastle University. Following research on Augur Buzzards in Kenya, Montagu’s Harriers in France and Common Buzzards in Scotland and the South of England, he carried out his PhD research examining the cause of the dramatic decline of a population of hen harriers on the Orkney Islands (Scotland), which was awarded in 2001 from Aberdeen University. Arjun then worked as a post-doctoral scientist for the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, undertaking research to help resolve the long standing conflict between hen harrier conservation and red grouse shooting on the Grouse moors of England and Scotland. In 2003, a post-doc position with the US Fish and Wildlife Service then took Arjun to the tiny Pacific Island of Rota, one of the Northern Mariana Islands, where he undertook research on the declining critically endangered Mariana Crow. For the last six years Arjun has worked as a Senior Conservation Scientist for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds based at both their UK and Scottish Headquarters.
Arjun’s research interests lie in understanding the processes that regulate animal distributions, demography and population dynamics, and applying this understanding to the conservation biology of declining populations. He is particularly interested in establishing causes of population declines, understanding the mechanisms that drive these declines and identifying appropriate remedial management to reverse or prevent these trends. His research has included work on raptors, waders and passerines in the uplands, woodland birds, lowland waders, and tropical forest birds and bats. Other research has focused on human-wildlife conflicts and he has published a number of papers surrounding the raptor-gamebird conflict. He sits on the grants review panel for the British Ecological Society and is an associate editor of Animal Conservation and Ibis.
Beatrice Conradie, Centre for Social Science Research
Professor Beatrice Conradie has been at UCT since 1999 and is associated with the Centre for Social Science Research. She has an undergraduate degree in Agriculture and an honours degree in Agricultural Economics from Stellenbosch University. Her masters, also from Stellenbosch, was on the potential for land reform in the apple industry. Her PhD from Colorado State University was on efficient water allocation in the Fish-Sundays irrigation scheme of the Eastern Cape.
Jeremy Seekings, Centre for Social Science Research
Jeremy Seekings is Professor of Political Studies and Sociology, former Director of the Centre for Social Science Research, and Interim Director of the new Institute for Democracy, Citizenship and Public Policy in Africa. His work ranges across political science, sociology, history and economics. Most of his current research focuses on the politics of "who gets what" - and how this is affected by public policy - in Africa. His most recent book (with Nicoli Nattrass) is Poverty, Policy and Politics in South Africa (London, 2015 & Cape Town, 2016). He is interested in the interactions between humans and canids and how these shape social and economic change in areas such as the Karoo.
Greg Distiller, Statistical Sciences
Dr Greg Distiller's primary area of research is statistical ecology. His PhD involved developing a continuous-time (CT) framework for spatial capture-recapture (SCR) models. The CT SCR framework treats detections as a temporal Poisson process and uses an encounter rate function to model the actual times of capture. Using a CT framework avoids having to impose an artificial construct on the data for analytical convenience, allows one to learn about animal behaviour, facilitates a parsimonious and flexible way to model heterogeneity in detection, and leads to a likelihood for single-catch traps. Greg also works with non-spatial capture-recapture models and occupancy models, and is a core member of the Statistics in Ecology, Environment and Conservation (SEEC) research group.
Matthew Lewis, Department of Biological Sciences
Dr Matthew Lewis is an ecologist with a strong interest in animal behaviour, habitat and resource use, and how competition for resources brings animals and humans into conflict. His research largely involves the use of stable isotope analysis (SIA), often in conjunction with other methods, to answer questions related to these themes.
For his doctoral research, Matthew used behavioural observations and SIA to investigate how chacma baboons on the Cape Peninsula use marine food resources, and how this affects other aspects of their ecology. As a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Archaeology at UCT, he used stable isotope mixing models to quantify diets of Late Stone Age humans in the Cape Peninsula and surrounds.
Matthew is currently involved in projects on a range of species and topics, including human-baboon conflict, variation in cape clawless otter diet in human-altered environments, trophic ecology of broadnose sevengill sharks and dietary profiles of archaeological humans. Going forward, his focus will be primarily on human–wildlife conflict research and the application of SIA to understand such conflict and inform mitigation strategies.
Stephen Redpath, University of Aberdeen
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Dan Parker, University of Mpumalanga
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Frans Radloff, Cape Peninsula University of Technology
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Mark Needham, Oregon State University
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Ines Fuertbauer, Swansea University
Coordinates the co-badged PhD programme between iCWild and the Department of Biosciences at Swansea University.
Andrew King, Swansea University
Coordinates the co-badged PhD programme between iCWild and the Department of Biosciences at Swansea University.
Marion is a French ecologist holding an engineering degree in Agronomy from Bordeaux Sciences Agro and a Ph.D. in population ecology from the Biometry and Evolutionary Biology laboratory (LBBE, University of Lyon) in France. Her PhD work focused on the impact of climate change on life history traits of alpine mammals using a long-term individual-based study. Her current research come from an interest to link ecological sciences with her knowledge in agronomy to better address human-wildlife conflicts in the context of global change.
She joined the Karoo Predator Project in 2015 to study the ecology of Chacma baboons (Papio ursinus) in conflict with extensive small livestock farms. Meso-predators are considered a major source of small livestock losses in the Karoo but recently predatory behaviour was also reported for baboons. Marion is using movements of GPS-collared baboons and stable isotopes to study baboon behavior and seasonal diet on farms, at the individual and the troop level. She will also use questionnaires to assess conflict severity and its determinants at a larger scale, to inform future management decisions.
Passionate about wildlife, naturalist amateur and newbie runner, she fits happily into iCWild.
The Urban Caracal Project aims to better understand caracls and to promote their conservation in an increasingly human-dominated landscape. Working tirelessly to make this vision a reality, Laurel established the project in 2013 with the support of the Cape Leopard Trust and in collaboration with the University of Cape Town. Studying caracals in the Cape Peninsula provides the opportunity to evaluate the ways in which urbanization affects genetic diversity, feeding habits, and population distribution, as well as the primary threats facing the population. Laurel hopes that by understanding how caracals survive in an urban landscape, we can better understand how best to conserve them, as well as other threatened species, in South Africa and beyond.
Laurel grew up in Dallas, Texas, and received her Bachelors of Science from the University of Texas at Austin in 2003. From there, she pursued her love of wildcat research working on a bobcat and mountain lion study in Los Angeles, California. She entered the graduate program in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California, Los Angeles and received her Ph.D. in 2014. There, she investigated urbanization effects on urban bobcats, including how pesticides drive genetic change and disease susceptibility. As a result of her work, state legislation was enacted to limit the availability of rat poisons.
Alison Kock, SANParks
Alison Kock is a marine biologist at the Cape Research Centre, South African National Parks. She is a Honorary Research Associate at the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity and the Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa. Alison completed her PhD in biological sciences at the University of Cape Town and her research interests lie in the areas of conservation biology, top predator conservation, behavioural ecology and more recently in biodiversity monitoring. She currently serves on the executive committee of Shark Spotters, a non-profit organisation whose vision is the sustainable co-existence of people and sharks and is the project leader of Sharks on the Urban Edge, a keystone project funded by the Save Our Seas Foundation. Alison is committed to conducting research that gets used in education, management and policy. She is a qualified boat skipper, rescue diver, loves exploring wild open spaces and is fascinated by sharks.
Chris Barichievy, Zoological Society of London
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Nicola Okes, Consulting scientist
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Guy Balme, Panthera
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Gareth Mann, Panthera
Dr. Gareth Mann is a carnivore biologist whose research interests include population monitoring, habitat use and human-wildlife conflict, especially in relation to large carnivores. After a diverse post-graduate career that included research on angulate tortoises, river ecology and baboon management, he completed his Ph.D. on the ecology of leopards in the semi-arid Little Karoo region of South Africa in 2014 at Rhodes University. Subsequently he completed a one-year post-doc at Rhodes University, during which time he joined a biodiversity monitoring expedition to north-western Madagascar, serving as a spatial ecologist.
In 2015, Gareth took up a new role as the Leopard Program Manager for Panthera, an international NGO dedicated to the conservation of big cats and the landscapes that they inhabit. Gareth’s primary task was to oversee Panthera’s leopard monitoring activities in South Africa, a project which sought to generate robust leopard population data from key sites around South Africa. In 2018, Gareth’s role was expanded to include new leopard monitoring projects in Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. These projects all aim to provide hitherto lacking data on leopard population status and
trends, with the aim of ultimately informing the management of leopards and other large carnivores at a local and national scale.
Gareth also serves on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Cape Leopard Trust.
Ross Pitman, Panthera
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Phil Richardson, Human Wildlife Solutions
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Stephanie Dolrenry, Lion Guardians (Kenya)
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Nikki le Roux, SANParks
Nikki's broad research interest lies in the use of genetic data to answer questions pertaining to the population structure, genetics, conservation and management of wildlife populations. More specifically, undertaking research that has a practical application in conservation issues and is sought after by conservation and management bodies. With human encroachment into previously uninhabited areas and the decline of wildlife populations due to poaching and other human-mediated activities, it will become increasingly important to manage the remaining wildlife populations in the best way possible. For this, genetic information is critical.
Nikki's current research focuses on the population structure and viability of black rhino in South African National Parks. Black rhino within South Africa were re-introduced by SANParks management, and many of the current populations were founded with less than ten individuals. As such, there is a pressing need to understand the genetic viability and breeding success of these populations in order to inform management decisions. This research evaluates the feasibility of non-invasive genetic sampling as a long-term monitoring strategy for black rhino in South Africa, and will determine population size, inbreeding, relatedness and the breeding success of individuals. The pilot study is underway, with a view to analysing a further four populations within the country over the next few years. Other research includes elucidating the spatial genetic structure of Cape clawless otters in the Cape Peninsula, and determining the genetic diversity of cheetah in South Africa for metapopulation management.