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Change the world


There are nearly 240,000 protected areas globally, yet we have a growing number of endangered species. This conundrum troubles leading conservation ecologist Prof Graham Kerley.

‘Why are you trying to conserve cows in a forest?” Graham Kerley once asked a panel of European conservation scientists.

Kerley, a zoologist fascinated by evolutionary biology, was being interviewed for a Marie Curie Fellowship. He questioned why bison, which, much like domestic cows, are bulk eaters of grass, were confined to European forests. He posed this question as a background to his proposed research into ecological restoration.

The European bison (Bison bonasus), is traditionally managed as a forest species, says Kerley. This is despite its evolutionary background, dental morphology, behaviour and diet characteristics of a grazing species that thrives in open, grass-rich habitats.

‘Refugee species’ 

The ensuing Fellowship at the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Mammal Research Institute fuelled Kerley’s interest in the subject, ultimately leading him to develop his “refugee species” concept.

Refugee species are those that can no longer access optimal habitats, resulting in decreased fitness and density. These animals become constrained by habitat and resource limits forced on them, with attendant conservation risks, says Kerley.

Kerley is set to elaborate on this at the 11th Oppenheimer Research Conference taking place in Johannesburg from 5 to 7 October.

This article was published in The Daily Maverick on 4 October 2022 written by Maxcine Kater, a Roving Reporters correspondent, and a young scientist interning at the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment.

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Contact information
Prof Graham Kerley
Professor, Zoology & Director: Centre for African Conservation Ecology
Tel: 27 41 504 2308