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  • Writer's pictureAmy Dickman and Alayne Cotterill

From lack of planning to strategic planning: better late than never!

It is nice to look back and think that we got to where we are by design. Hindsight can polish dumb luck into a shining history of carefully considered and well thought through plans - ignoring major errors in judgement. The truth is, when we started out as field conservationists in our raggedy little tents and ignorant bliss, deciding what to do and why did seem simple. From a position of relative ignorance we identified the most obvious problem and worked to find a possible solution. But the more we learned, the more complex the challenges facing conservation revealed themselves to be, and so our simple projects adapted and grew into networks of interlocking programmes addressing a myriad of different obstacles to coexistence between people and carnivores. We maintained our core large carnivore research but branched inexpertly into healthcare, security, education… who knew that large carnivore conservation meant addressing so many human needs? We hired and partnered with people with more expertise than ourselves, and gradually accumulated a wealth of shared experience that better guided our decisions. However, we never stopped to consider the bigger picture, there never felt like time to stop and consider much at all. Instead we kept pushing forwards on gut instinct honed through a process of trial and error. Some things worked and many things failed. When things failed we learned, picked up the pieces and tried something different.


Even the merger between Lion Landscapes (v1) and the Ruaha Carnivore Project, which probably should have been a moment to stop and carefully consider the future, felt instinctive – ‘looks like a good plan, let’s do it’ – and in the space of one conversation another huge decision was made. In retrospect, that was far less than ideal - as leaders of the two organisations, we discussed and decided that merging was a great idea, and announced it excitedly as a done deal. But we should have recognised that it had taken many people, over many years, to help our organisations succeed, and they needed to be as much a part of the decision-making as the two leaders were.

Amy Dickman (left) and Alayne Cotterill (right): ‘Looks like a good plan, let’s do it.’

Amy Dickman (left) and Alayne Cotterill (right): ‘Looks like a good plan, let’s do it.’

Nevertheless, in that moment, with their characteristic energy and optimism, our collective teams responded and pulled together. New people joined to help build the necessary systems, and onwards we all rolled. Without so much as a pause, the new Lion Landscapes was formed to span four big landscapes in three countries, with a team of over 100 passionate and dedicated people and almost as many partners.

After a whirlwind year, it was finally time to stop, lift our collective heads, take a deep breath and look around us; Who are we? What are we trying to achieve? How are we best going to get there? And how do we make sure - belatedly - that this joint organisation is something that we all believe in and helped create, not just the leaders?

With help from Maliasili, we have now finished a process of strategic planning to help us answer exactly these questions - our final 5-year Strategic Plan is shared with you here. At the core of this document is our Theory of Change – our unique pathway to achieving our shared vision and mission. Having dedicated most of our lives to large carnivore conservation, we all had our individual, internal missions but realised that often those missions did not align exactly with those of others in the team, and that we often failed to express them as clearly as we needed.

The large carnivore species we study, captured on camera traps on village land

Maliasili helped us to crystalise those individual goals into something clear and shared. We realised that everything we were doing was working to make large carnivore conservation valuable to local and global communities. At present, most of the value of that conservation is felt internationally, while it is local people who bear the costs of it. Our central goal is to rebalance that equation, making conservation fairer and more effective. The conservation of lions and wider biodiversity must have real, tangible, competitive value for the people sharing the landscape with it - otherwise they will do something else with their land - agriculture, infrastructure, anything that will allow them to improve the wellbeing of their families. This is what humans have done across the globe for millennia. Much of our work focuses on that local level, but maintaining and expanding global buy-in is also vital. Unless the international public, companies and decision-makers are willing to invest properly and equitably in conservation, including covering the real local costs of carnivore conservation and coexistence, it will fail. We can hardly expect the poorest communities in the world to bear that cost alone, which has often been the case up to now.

Local people examine the footprint of a carnivore (left) which had killed livestock (right)

Strong evidence for conservation action

But how do we as Lion Landscapes achieve this mission? The foundation of our Theory of Change, the start of our pathway, is strong evidence for conservation action. This comes in many forms, from scientific data to locally contextualised knowledge built from living at the field sites, talking to local communities, building teams from within those communities, and immersing ourselves in each landscape. Additionally, our ongoing monitoring provides data that constantly evaluates the impacts of our programmes and the status of the challenges we are addressing. Our close affiliation with Oxford University ensures strong scientific studies underpin our local knowledge. Foreign students are paired with local students to ensure the most effective sharing of local knowledge and technical expertise. Overall, this helps us to fully understand the challenges faced, and have the ability to constantly assess how our actions impact those challenges.

Communication for change

Having good evidence for conservation action is only useful if it’s made available, understood and used by those making the conservation decisions, and so the next step in our pathway is communication for change. We must make sure that the information we spend so much time and energy collecting is used to inform effective conservation action by us, our partners and wider conservation decision makers.

Lion Landscapes researchers communicating our findings to local stakeholders

Stop the loss, reduce the cost, unlock the benefits

For Lion Landscapes, our conservation actions all work towards at least one of our three goals; to stop the loss of large carnivores, their prey and habitat, to reduce the cost of conservation to local people and to unlock the benefits associated with conservation for both local and global populations. For example, we have multiple programmes which directly reduce threats like snaring and poisoning (stopping the loss) and work with people to prevent carnivore attacks (reducing the cost). But probably most importantly, every year we translate hundreds of thousands of donor and development dollars into local community benefits which are clearly and directly linked to wildlife presence, so the benefit of conservation is felt by those most affected. Throughout all of these actions, we build local capacity to increase the long-term impacts of our work.

1) Stop the loss of large carnivores 2) reduce the cost of living with wildlife 3) unlock the benefits

Collaboration and Partnership

Collaboration and partnership underpins our theory of change (see image below). We know that we will never achieve our mission alone, and so we collaborate or actively partner with many others, both within and beyond the landscapes we work in, so we can use our complimentary skills and resources to achieve shared goals.

Our Theory of Change

All elements work together to achieve the Lion Landscapes mission of making large carnivore conservation valuable to local people and global communities. Effectively translating the immense global value of large carnivore conservation to local communities would be transformative. It could reduce and even reverse the huge threats of human-wildlife conflict and habitat destruction, and make wildlife a vehicle for people being happier, wealthier and more fulfilled. Ultimately, it would enable the creation of healthy landscapes where people and wildlife, including the largest carnivores, can thrive together. This is our vision, we hope you share it!

Lion Landscapes' Theory of Change Diagram

Interested to learn more?

Register for our Behind the Scenes webinar

23 March, 5pm GMT


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