Conservation Ecologist: Dr. Stuart Pimm

Conservation Ecologist: Dr. Stuart Pimm

“We are looking for ways of trying to figure out why in particular lions and cheetahs are declining and what we can do to reverse those declines,” says conservation ecologist Stuart Pimm.


6 - 12+


Anthropology, Biology

Stuart is the Doris Duke Chair of Conservation Ecology at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. He is also a member of the National Geographic Society’s committee for the Big Cats Initiative.

“We are looking for ways of trying to figure out why in particular lions and cheetahs are declining and what we can do to reverse those declines,” Stuart says of his work with National Geographic.


Stuart says his parents introduced him to the outdoors at an early age. “Weekends and holidays we spent hiking and camping,” he says.

Stuart’s interest in the natural world took flight while growing up in Derbyshire, England. “Like many people, I started out as a young teenager with a passion for bird watching,” he says. “When you get involved in bird watching, you learn birds, and birds are a very obvious indicator of what’s wrong and what’s right with the world.”

After receiving his PhD from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, New Mexico, Stuart went to Hawaii. There, he studied the ‘i’iwi, a black and red bird native to the islands. During months in the field, Stuart began to realize a lot of bird species on the islands were disappearing. “It changed my whole worldview,” he says. “I thought we scientists better be studying why species go extinct. It’s both a scientifically interesting question, but it’s also a morally mandatory question.”


“I feel really hugely fortunate to be doing something to keep the wonderful world that we have going. That’s what is exciting for me. I’m not just going out there and studying it in some sort of academic way. My work has a sense of mission, of purpose, and that makes it so worthwhile.”


When encountering disappearing species and cultures, Stuart says, it can be difficult to stay optimistic. “I think the challenge in some ways is not to get depressed,” he says.


“What geography means to me is this connection between people and their environment. In that sense, I think conservation biology is an essential piece of geography.”


Stuart says mapping out lion and cheetah habitats in Africa is a big part of his work with the Big Cats Initiative. “What we are really trying to do is a couple of things at a couple of different levels,” he says. “One of them is that we are trying to map out savanna Africa.”

Stuart and his students at Duke University are using Google Earth to locate areas that were lion and cheetah habitat before the regions were overtaken by crop fields. “We, my students and I, have produced maps of Africa that are really quite alarmingly different to what other people have produced in the past,” he says.


Get outside! “If you are outdoors and you’ve seen what’s going on in your world, that gives you a huge leg up on what’s happening in the planet,” Stuart says.


Volunteer for a local conservation organization. “I think almost wherever you live there are local conservation groups of one kind or another,” Stuart says. “There are local groups that care about the places people live.”

Fast Fact

The World According to Pimm
Stuart is also an author of several books, including 2001s The World According to Pimm: A Scientist Audits the Earth. Thats sort of an assessment of what were doing to the planet, he says.

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Stuart Thornton
Jeannie Evers, Emdash Editing, Emdash Editing
Kara West
National Geographic Society
Last Updated

May 20, 2022

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