Q&A with Dr. Silvio Marchini: The Human Dimensions of Conservation – Part 1

A shot taken in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, showcasing a tiny portion of the vast Pantanal wetland. Part of Dr. Marchini’s PhD research took place in the Mato Grosso Pantanal. Pantanal Mato Grosso Brasil by Filipefrazao. CC BY-SA 3.0


This Q&A is with Dr. Silvio Marchini: a scientist, educator, and one of the foremost experts on the “human dimensions” of conservation – the realm of conservation science that focuses on understanding human behavior as it relates to wildlife conservation.

Nearly all drivers of the current biodiversity crisis, from habitat loss to climate change, stem from human actions. Dr. Marchini realized this early on, and has become a strong advocate for linking the social and ecological sciences. His papers are truly extraordinary, and I have featured three of them on this blog.

However, Dr. Marchini’s work extends beyond academia. As the founder and general coordinator of the Escola da Amazônia, he brings rural and urban youth together to learn about the incredible Amazon rainforest –  ­for which he earned a well-deserved Whitley Award in 2007.

Series Blueprint

Until now, I have released all Q&A’s on The Jaguar and its Allies in one post. But this one is different. Dr. Marchini had a lot to say in response to my questions, and his answers were full of valuable information. Rather than condensing his responses into a single post, I have chosen to split this Q&A into two parts. This first post will feature questions one and two, and the next questions three and four.


1.) What made you decide to dedicate your life to wildlife conservation in general, and human dimensions more specifically?

The problems that wildlife conservation aims to solve are not problems with animals or their habitats, but ultimately problems with people. The assessment and management of those problems, therefore, must go beyond the scope of the biological sciences, and take into account what the people involved think and do.

It is in the light of such findings that many conservationists with training in the ecological sciences, myself included, realize that they will eventually have to wear the hat of the psychologist, communicator, marketer, or facilitator if they want to cause the desired change. Worryingly, most ecologists lack the proper training in the social sciences. A personal interview survey or a behavior change intervention designed and implemented by a biologist with no training in the social sciences has the same chance to succeed as a camera-trap or genetic study carried out by a psychologist or political scientist who lacks the proper training in the biological sciences.

Dr. Silvio Marchini explaining human dimensions research methods in Costa Rica. Image © Esteban Brenes.

I got my bachelors degree in biology from the University of Sao Paulo and moved to Amazonia to do research in tropical ecology. My growing interest in conservation, however, led me to look also at the people who share the land with the wildlife; and, eventually, to create the Escola da Amazônia (the Amazon School, http://www.escoladaamazonia.org), whose objective was to engage young Brazilians in conservation.

Below is a video by filmmaker Patrick Rouxel about a field trip that a group of high school students from Sao Paolo took to the Escola da Amazônica. A fuller description of the video can be found on Patrick Rouxel’s website.

In my PhD, I examined the motivations behind jaguar persecution, and assessed the effectiveness of some communication and community engagement activities that we were carrying out at the Amazon School in increasing people’s tolerance to jaguars. These changes in my academic interest – shifting from biology to ecology to conservation to human dimensions – recapitulate, in a sense, the changing perspectives in the field of conservation itself.

2.) You have studied the human dimensions of conservation across a wide range of species and contexts. Overall, what is the most pressing challenge to human-wildlife coexistence?

The challenges facing wildlife professionals worldwide have never been so great, not necessarily because the threats to species and ecosystems are greater than before, but because the objectives are now more complex. While the goal of ‘conservation biology’, as posited by Michael Soule in 1985, was to preserve biological diversity; the ‘conservation science’ proposed by Kareiva and Marvier in 2012 aims to preserve biodiversity and improve human well-being. The human dimension of conservation, however, is often more complicated than the ecological one. Furthermore, as society becomes more diversified, people hold more varied views about wildlife and its management.

For instance, while the conservationist can support the lethal control of exotic species for the benefit of native, endangered species, an increasingly significant segment of society cares about the welfare of the individual animal – be it native or exotic. There has been an increasing concern about ethics, justice and the well-being of individuals, both human and non-human, and this – together with the growing ideals of democracy accompanied by greater participation in governance – renders conservation decisions more difficult.

Dr. Silvio Marchini leading a group of students at the Escola da Amazônia. Image © Edson Grandisoli.

The People and Wildlife Coexistence Project

In response, we are launching the People & Wildlife Coexistence Project, under the Chester Zoo / WildCRU partnership – in collaboration with the University of Sao Paulo – to explore ways to upscale the analysis and management of human-wildlife interactions; focusing on the institutional level.

Taking advantage of a set of project partners in a wide cross-section of ecological, cultural, socioeconomic and political contexts in South America, the People & Wildlife Coexistence Project will look at large-scale patterns and processes that each project could not address individually. We are also linking these projects together: creating a network for them to learn from each other; and, in turn, assist them in delivering best-practice informed human-wildlife conflict mitigation. We will then develop capacity building accordingly, with an emphasis on conservation social sciences and decision making at the institutional level – which is currently a wide gap in field.

Stay Tuned

I will release the second part of this Q&A next week. Should you happen to know any early-career conservationists, I implore you to share these posts with them; the material Dr. Marchini covers in his answers will certainly be of use to them.

Posts Featuring Dr. Marchini’s Work

The Complexities of Perceptions about Jaguars’ Impacts on Human Livelihoods

New Study Released about the Human Dimensions of Jaguar and Puma Conservation

Human-Jaguar Conflict may be more Complex than it Seems


20 Thoughts

    1. Thank you Afzal! Dr. Marchini really is an incredible person; an example of what more conservationists will need to be like if we’re to effectively tackle the social challenges that also affect the environment. As you already know, the ‘human’ world and the ‘natural’ world are one and the same.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. amazing person indeed, Josh – and thought-provoking words as always – and yes the “human” and “natural” so inextricably linked and again the “human” world really inflicting grievous harm – we have passed the need for specific and difficult and necessary action to be taken

        Peace ✌ my brother

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Great conversation about great conservation! The blame and responsibility for the earth’s latest mass extinction lies squarely on human shoulders. A full solution to this terrible problem requires an account of why humanity can’t seem to play nice with our fellow inhabitants of planet earth

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Adam! Conservationists have known for years that preventing species extinctions ultimately comes down to changing human behavior. Unfortunately, until recently there hasn’t been much interest on the part of social scientists to get involved in wildlife conservation – with a few notable exceptions. Therefore it’s great that individuals like Dr. Marchini are taking it upon themselves to bridge the gap between the social and ecological sciences.

      Liked by 1 person

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