Leadership and management influences the outcome of wildlife reintroduction programs: findings from the Sea Eagle Recovery Project

PeerJ. 2015 Jun 18:3:e1012. doi: 10.7717/peerj.1012. eCollection 2015.


Wildlife reintroductions and translocations are statistically unlikely to succeed. Nevertheless, they remain a critical part of conservation because they are the only way to actively restore a species into a habitat from which it has been extirpated. Past efforts to improve these practices have attributed the low success rate to failures in the biological knowledge (e.g., ignorance of social behavior, poor release site selection), or to the inherent challenges of reinstating a species into an area where threats have already driven it to local extinction. Such research presumes that the only way to improve reintroduction outcomes is through improved biological knowledge. This emphasis on biological solutions may have caused researchers to overlook the potential influence of other factors on reintroduction outcomes. I employed a grounded theory approach to study the leadership and management of a successful reintroduction program (the Sea Eagle Recovery Project in Scotland, UK) and identify four critical managerial elements that I theorize may have contributed to the successful outcome of this 50-year reintroduction. These elements are: 1. Leadership & Management: Small, dedicated team of accessible experts who provide strong political and scientific advocacy ("champions") for the project. 2. Hierarchy & Autonomy: Hierarchical management structure that nevertheless permits high individual autonomy. 3. Goals & Evaluation: Formalized goal-setting and regular, critical evaluation of the project's progress toward those goals. 4. Adaptive Public Relations: Adaptive outreach campaigns that are open, transparent, inclusive (esp. linguistically), and culturally relevant.

Keywords: Conservation champions; Conservation leadership; Haaliaeetus albicilla; Organizational culture; Transformational leadership; White-tailed sea eagle; Wildlife reintroduction.

Grants and funding

Funding for this work was provided by the MSC L.T. Jordan Institute for International Awareness at Texas A&M University, and by the Department of Wildlife & Fisheries at Texas A&M University. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.