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B312: Maximising Return on Investment for elephant and ape conservation in Africa (Lead Supervisor: Andrew Balmford, Zoology and *CASE* Partner Wildlife Conservation Society)

Supervisors: Andrew Balmford (Zoology), Andrew Plumptre (WCS), Timothy Tear (WCS), and Robin Naidoo (WWF-US)

This project is advertised with *CASE* partner Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)

Importance of the area of research:

Conservation resources are limited and need to be targeted where they will have the greatest impact. A recent approach in the literature proposes using a Return on Investment framework (ROI) to identify where best to invest scarce funds. This research project will develop the metrics and tools for enabling ROI to be estimated for species conservation and test them on elephants and great apes across Africa. The results will guide conservation practitioners in how to best target their interventions in the field to maximise the impact of their funds. Publications in theoretical journals on the metrics and practical journals on their application to elephants and apes are envisaged. The results of the project could significantly improve the allocation of investments in the conservation of these species as well as generate methods that could be applied to evaluate ROI for species conservation elsewhere. 

Project summary:

Conservation agencies focus on focal species (keystone, umbrella, flagship, etc,) but there has been no assessment of where offers the greatest Return on Investment (ROI) when funding flagship species conservation. This project will use an ROI approach to develop tools to identify where to invest in conservation across a species' range, in order to maximise the outcomes of conservation investments. The metrics identified will be tested on elephant and ape conservation across Africa, using data on costs of conservation, elephant/ape numbers and trends compiled for the entire continent both within and between countries,  to evaluate how best to measure ROI.

What the student will do:

The student will initially evaluate the literature on ROI to assess what metrics have been used to date and propose how they could be applied and modified to estimate ROI for species conservation. This will lead to a theoretical paper on measuring ROI. The relevant data for the metrics will then be compiled for elephants and apes, with the support of WCS (AP, TT) and WWF (RN) across Africa. Key data will include information on current investment in conservation at sites, trends in elephants and ape numbers, estimated population sizes, and national-level governance indices. The student will then conduct ROI analyses for elephants and apes using their proposed metrics and use the results to develop two publications guiding conservation investments on the continent.  Fieldwork to collate data from some countries will be supported by WCS and will involve a site visit by the student to some countries in Africa.

Please contact the lead supervisor directly for further information relating to what the successful applicant will be expected to do, training to be provided, and any specific educational background requirements.


Tear, T. H., B. N. Stratton, et al. (2014). A return-on-investment framework to identify conservation priorities in Africa. Biological Conservation 173: 42-52.

Auerbach, N. A., A. I. T. Tulloch, et al. (2014). Informed actions: where to cost effectively manage multiple threats to species to maximize return on investment. Ecological Applications 24(6): 1357-1373. DOI: 10.1890/13-0711.1

Naidoo, R., B. Fisher, A. Manica, and A. Balmford.  2016.  Estimating  economic losses to tourism from the illegal killing of elephants.  Nature Communications, in press.

Follow this link to find out about how to apply for this project. 


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