Wild at heart

James Allan grew up on the sweeping plains of Kenya, East Africa, and spent his childhood on safari with elephants and lions. He is now on a mission to protect the world’s last great wilderness areas for the next generation. 

The Niassa National Reserve (NNR) is Mozambique’s largest protected area and is home to large populations of megafauna. Despite this, the NNR is one of the least biologically explored places on Earth. 

Inspired by his father, who runs safari tours through the jungles and savannahs of Kenya, James Allan travelled to Brisbane in 2014 to pursue a PhD at the UQ School of Earth and Environmental Studies. 

“I spent my childhood on safari taking photos of animals, walking in some of Kenya’s wildest and most beautiful regions – it’s just so inspiring,” Allan said.

“There’s nothing like being next to an elephant, you just can’t describe the feeling of seeing an animal that big near you on foot.”

While at UQ, Allan’s PhD supervisor Professor James Watson recommended that he get involved with the Wildlife Conservation Society on a three-month fieldwork study in Mozambique.

Allan leapt at the opportunity to use applied science to help conserve Niassa for the next generation. 

The study looked at patterns of forest loss and found the reserve had lost 108 square kilometres between 2001 and 2014 due to agriculture and human settlement.

Allan said the study found that Niassa’s protected area status had helped save it from large-scale land clearing that had occurred in Mozambique. The land could potentially support up to 50,000 elephants and 1000 lions. 

“With proper investment, Niassa could once again support large assemblages of megafauna like elephants and lions, which have been decimated by rampant poaching for meat and ivory,” he said. 

“There are not many habitats this big that are still intact and have large charismatic animals. 

“The importance of that goes beyond northern Mozambique, beyond Africa. I think it’s the responsibility of the world to save these areas.”

Allan embarked upon two six-week fieldwork trips to Mozambique in July 2015 and again in July 2016, and is now working to protect wild spaces around the world through applied conservation projects with the Green Fire Science lab group.

“PhDs are what you make of it. UQ opens doors to amazing opportunities – travel, meet new people, learn, grow and do some important work that can make a difference.”

To learn more about Green Fire Science, visit  greenfirescience.com.

Credits: title video via Getty/ Anton Herrington, slide images by Jean-Baptiste Deffontaines.

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