Reflections on the International Congress for Conservation Biology 2023

Written by
Christian J. Rivera with contributors
Aug. 21, 2023

The 31st International Congress for Conservation Biology (ICCB 2023) took place in Kigali, Rwanda on July 23-27. ICCB is hosted biannually by the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) and is the premier global forum for presenting research in conservation science and practice, as well as one of the world’s major networking events for anyone interested in conservation. This year’s ICCB was the first one held since the global pandemic, with the previous ICCB held in Malaysia in 2019.

The theme of ICCB 2023 was “The Future is Now: Sustaining biodiversity for today and tomorrow”. A major goal of the congress was to explore “out-of-the-box” thinking towards biodiversity conservation and sustainable development of communities in Africa and beyond. The congress included training courses, workshops, roundtable discussions, plenaries, symposia, and contributed presentations (oral talks, speed talks, poster presentations). Four current members of the C-PREE/EEB community attended this year’s congress and presented on their research in conservation science.

Below are some reflections on their experiences.

Christian Rivera, Postdoctoral Research Associate and Environmental Teaching Fellow, High Meadows Environmental Institute; Environmental Policy Associate, C-PREE

This was my second time attending an ICCB, with my first experience being in Cartagena, Colombia, in 2017. I had been looking forward to this conference for a while, given that it would be my first time travelling to the African continent and reconnecting with the global conservation community since the pandemic. The community at the ICCB in Kigali was incredibly welcoming and kind. It felt amazing being surrounded by conservation scientists and practitioners from around the world, and specially learning about some of the on-the-ground conservation efforts being spearheaded in Rwanda and beyond.

My current research focuses on the integration of ecological and social science approaches and their application to complex conservation issues in a rapidly changing world, particularly the hunting, use, and trade of wildlife. I had the privilege of presenting a speed talk on applying approaches in conservation criminology to better understand the drivers of the live primate trade. After my talk, various attendees approached me with an interest in learning more about my work and continuing the conversation beyond ICCB. I made some valuable connections that I know will help shape my future conservation work! Moreover, I had the privilege of serving as the primary moderator for the talk session on Global Change. Talks in this session covered a range of topics from impacts of outsourced deforestation to land-use planning for climate-smart sustainable development.

I also attended the SCB Members Meeting which was held on the last day of congress. I was happy to learn about SCB’s increasing efforts towards Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice (DEIJ) in conservation science, particularly in journals like Conservation Biology and Conservation Science and Practice. This includes efforts to enhance participation in SCB across a range of diversity measures. Many of SCB’s DEIJ efforts are rooted in the work of my mentor and friend Dr. Eleanor Sterling, who passed away early this year on February 13, 2023. SCB’s DEIJ committee was established upon Eleanor’s recommendation and guidance. She also received the SCB Distinguished Service Award in 2013 for both her conservation science leadership and mentorship of many aspiring conservation scientists and practitioners. It was an honor attending ICCB 2023 and reflecting on the impact that mentors like Eleanor have had in my life, and on my potential role in the future of our profession. I am excited to convene with the global conservation community again at the next ICCB in 2025, which will be held in Australia!

Dan Liang, Associate Research Scholar, C-PREE

Participating in ICCB 2023 held in Kigali, Rwanda marked my inaugural experience at a conservation conference. This conference provided me a significant opportunity to engage with the community of conservation scientists and practitioners from around the globe. While ecological and ornithological conferences that I previously attended predominantly emphasized scientific aspects, ICCB 2023 also provided a platform where conservation practitioners openly shared their experiences in communicating scientific insights with various stakeholders, including policy-makers and local communities. I was truly impressed by the long-term conservation efforts that conservation scientists and practitioners, together with local communities, have dedicated to conserving endangered species in different parts of the world (e.g., Mountain Gorilla in Eastern Africa; Snow Leopard in Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau).

Given my primary focus on wildlife hunting and trade, it was great to witness the attention these concerns are receiving in various parts of the world. The conference had three wildlife trade sessions that futured presentations from different regions/countries. I presented my own work on domestic wildlife hunting in China during one of the sessions. Additionally, another symposium about the pet bird trade in Africa also had some highly informative presentations in that region. Gaining insights into this issue across different regions across the global could certainly aid my understanding the wildlife trade issue as a whole and brainstorming future research ideas. This conference provided an excellent opportunity for me to reconnect with familiar faces and forge connections with new conservation scientists. I also enjoyed spending a nice morning to explore the avian biodiversity of a city park in Kigali, which beautifully complemented the exchange of knowledge and ideas during the conference.

Tong Mu, Postdoctoral Research Associate, C-PREE

This was my first ICCB meeting, and it was very encouraging to see hundreds of people, of different cultures and backgrounds, coming together to share their insights and experiences in addressing biodiversity loss, one of the two major environmental crises we currently face. It was very enlightening hearing a wide spectrum of topics ranging from international and regional conservation policy, to local and on-site conservation practices, but I had a feeling that ecological (as well as other scientific) research was not well represented at the meeting; not well enough given its critical role in devising effective and practical conservation policy and practices.

I really enjoyed my time in Rwanda, meeting old friends and making new connections. Local people are super friendly. Kigali has a good combo of modern and traditional appearance. And it is amazing that there is a great eco-park with a lot of birds right next to the airport, just minutes away from the city center.