Celebrating a great conservation leader – Professor Carl Jones MBE

Simon Black –

This week Carl Jones was awarded the 2016 Indianapolis Prize which was instigated in 2005 to celebrate the men and women who have made extraordinary contributions to the sustainability of wildlife.

Carl, the Chief Scientist for Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Scientific Director for the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, received the award for his momentous​ victories saving species and restoring ecosystems. These are all well documented elsewhere (for example see the Durrell site), but in a nutshell, Carl’s achievements in saving bird, bat and reptile species on Mauritus and Rodrigues account for about 10% of all recovered species globally. His bird recoveries (Pink Pigeon, Mauritius Kestrel, Echo Parakeet, Rodrigues Fody and Rodrigues Warbler) account for 19% of all saved bird species.

For all of his accolades, Carl is most satisfied that, through the award, the importance of these less well-recognised species of Mauritius has been honored.

What is important in Carl’s work, aside from the fact that animals still exist in the Mascarene forests today which would otherwise be limited to a few dusty museum skins, is that he has pioneered a method. Species conservation is about doing it not just talking about it. Hands-on skills are vital, as is a commitment to short-term goals, but always with a long term vision of what could be achieved.

For Carl, leadership is not about the leader, but about leading others in the work, and enabling them to take up the mantle, to apply and further develop skills and techniques. Hundreds of people have been ‘apprentices’ in Mauritius and now work all over the globe directly influenced and taught by Carl. His is a great example of distributed leadership.

It is a pleasure to work with Carl, picking out the do’s and don’ts of conservation management. It was fantastic to see his career of over 40 years recognised for its outstanding achievements. Long may his influence continue to enable the recovery and sustainability of wildlife on the planet.

Black, S.A. (2016) How the last two Montserrat ‘mountain chicken’ frogs could save their species. The Conversation https://theconversation.com/how-the-last-two-montserrat-mountain-chicken-frogs-could-save-their-species-58681


Conservation Success & Continuous Improvement: accumulation of small gains

Simon Black – 

The recovery of endemic bird species in Mauritius has been notable in enabling the downlist of several Mauritian species on the IUCN Red List. In the case of the Mauritius Kestrel and the Pink Pigeon the recovery was from a handful of surviving individuals. How has this level of recovery been possible?

kestrel populationCarl Jones, who has led the Mauritian programmes for over 30 years, was quick to enhance his own knowledge of kestrel breeding with techniques which had previously proven successful in efforts in New Zealand and the USA. He has used a better way. Instead of imposing a command-and-control structure on his teams, he has developed a ‘system’ and more importantly, he appears to be applying systems thinking in the way that he manages the team. Every part of the system; habitats, diet, supplementary feeding, breeding facilities, nest locations, monitoring, predator eradication, bird behaviour, technical skills, equipment.

When we look to other sectors we see approaches which are reminiscent of the Mauritian philosophy. To some extend the levels of improvement seen in the GB cycling team over the past 10 years are a comparative illustration.

“We considered everything, even the smallest improvements, to give us a competitive edge. It was the accumulation of these small details that made us unbeatable.” Dave Brailsford, Team Chief, GB Cycling  – Gold Medal winners, London 2012 Olympics

So what does this mean for us in pursuing changes and improvements in our own conservation projects? It suggests to me that any organisation would benefit from a culture of learning and continuous improvement; work on what you CAN influence in the reasonable hope that it will overcome the factors over which you have no influence. Carl Jones puts this down to understanding the species, their ecology and threats. As Juran (1989) said – focus on the vital few rather than the trivial many to achieve your purpose then, as Senge (1990) urges, always keep an open mind to unexpected outcomes and be ready to understand what else needs to be done to improve

It is the size of influence which is important. The smallest things can be significant influencers. Conservation leaders need to be ready to spot and act upon opportunities when they arise.


Groombridge, J.J., Bruford, M.W., Jones, C.G. and Nichols, R.A. (2001) Evaluating the severity of the population bottleneck in the Mauritius kestrel Falco punctatus from ringing records using MCMC estimation. Journal of Animal Ecology, 70, 401-409

Juran J. (1989) Juran on Leadership For Quality, The Free Press, NY

Senge P. (1990) The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organisation, Doubleday, New York.

The Head, Heart and Guts of Leadership Character

Simon Black –

Are leaders born or made? This question dominated leadership thinking until the 1940s and, despite the growth in leadership development (particularly since the 1960s and 1970s) is a question that is still frequently asked in conservation circles.

The question (or its answer perhaps) is usually framed in terms of ‘personality’ on one hand and ‘skills and abilities’ on the other. ‘Personality’ is seen as something that we are born with, or at least is shaped in early shildhood, whilst many of our ‘skills and abilities’ can be learned. We can achieve this learning to some level of effectiveness or another, perhaps by training, or reflection of experiences or (common to many conservation leaders perhaps) by a form of unconscious ‘osmosis’.

As human beings we have enormously elastic capabilities – our learning is often governed by choice, not just genes. When I discuss practical leadership – working with people to get things done, I often use a simple three-part model – Head, Heart and Guts. An imbalance in one of these three dimensions would make us appear either cold, or gushing, or irrational, or inconsistent, or unpredictable, or a steamroller, or someone who bends in every wind (or worse).

The balancing of these things becomes important as we juggle the need for scientific rationality (e.g. in monitoring data) with managing the sensitivities of local communities, or trying to engage sponsorship from businesses or government.

Steven Covey talks about balancing ‘consideration’ with ‘courage’ (Heart versus Guts). We also know that we need to balance our ‘rational’ side with ’emotional’ empathy (Head versus Heart), and also maintain balance between our Guts and Head!

If you want to develop as an effective leader, then remember to develop skills in planning and decision-making in combination with interpersonal skills and the development of sound judgement.


Black, S.A. & Copsey, J.A. (2014b). Purpose, Process, Knowledge and Dignity in Interdisciplinary projects. Conservation Biology. 28 (5): 1139-1141. DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12344

Covey, S. (1989) 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon & Shuster, New York, NY.

Jacobs, C.J. (2009) Management Rewired: Why Feedback Doesn’t Work and Other Surprising Lessons from the Latest Brain Science. Penguin Group Portfolio, NY