In 1973, Professor Barry Boettcher initiated biology teaching at the University of Newcastle. Under his leadership and guidance, the discipline grew, expanded and amalgamated to become the School of Environmental and Life Sciences, now led by Professor Brett Neilan.
Research excellence is an enduring characteristic of the school, and this month we had our wanderlust genes activated by the pleasure of listening to Matt Hayward, an ecologist who has followed his dream of conserving threatened native animal populations in Australia, Africa and Europe. It was a real Boy’s Own adventure, featuring quokka, spotted hyaenas, leopards, lions, bison, wolves, elephants and bilbies.
Associate Professor Matt Hayward joins other conservation ecologists at the university to strengthen research into the factors that endanger already threatened species. He began his fascinating life’s journey investigating red foxes versus quokkas; bush meat hunting versus species survival in the Transkei; the reintroduction of lions, spotted hyaenas and a leopard to a National Park in South Africa; reintroduction of wolves to the primeval forests of Poland; reintroduction of red squirrels to forests of North Wales; and the list goes on.
You can imagine how fascinating it was to see the photos of lions wearing tracking collars, the infrared camera shots of the jungle animals and the wolves in the Northern snow. As a testament to the respect held for Matt’s research and commitment to conservation biology, the park mentioned above honoured him and his wife, Gina, by naming the first generation of lion cubs from Kamqua the lioness after them both.
We hope that the work Matt and his colleagues are doing in Newcastle will go a long to turning around Australia’s terrible record of animal extinctions.