Two top wins for Zoology in the Vice-Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research awards

We are delighted to announce that two zoology projects have won in this year’s Vice-Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research Awards. 

Professor Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor says: “I have been deeply impressed by the quality of the public engagement with research projects submitted for this year’s awards. The breadth and diversity of the activities taking place show how seriously the University takes its commitment to public engagement.” 


The award-winning project Penguin Watch was designed to help conserve the declining number of penguins, by collecting time-lapse imagery of penguin colonies to monitor the timing and success rate of breeding pairs. The project is led by Dr Tom Hart of the Department of Zoology and Professor Chris Lintott of the Department of Physics.

"The Penguin Watch team are absolutely delighted to have received this award,” said Dr Hart. “It's a project that we have worked very hard to build and expand over the last few years, and something we are very proud of. To have it recognised in this way is extremely rewarding.” 

Public volunteers process the data taken from the time-lapse imagery on via the Zooniverse platform. Since its launch in September 2014 over 865,000 people visited the website, with 48,000 going on to become registered users, many of whom visit the site every day. 

“We are so grateful to all of our volunteers who have made the project such a success. We're constantly in awe of people's dedication to counting penguins”, said Dr Hart.

The project continuously seeks to engage new publics with the research taking place and to encourage more volunteers by generating media interest including appearances on the BBC 10 O'clock news. 

“Penguin Watch is really important to us as an outreach tool”, said Dr Hart. “It's wonderful that so many people - of a whole range of ages - have become involved in the project. It's also a great way of introducing people to conservation biology and the polar environment; to see people's enthusiasm for the project is extremely rewarding.”
Penguin Watch has processed 6 million images to date, generating an outstanding data legacy. The data is being used by DPhil students and to inform bodies such as the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. 

“Penguin Watch wouldn't exist were it not for the Zooniverse team, to whom we are very grateful! I would also personally like to thank the Penguin Watch moderators, who enthusiastically and expertly manage the Penguin Watch 'Talk' forum.”



The award-winning project led by Dr Amy Dickman of WildCRU aimed to educate communities in Tanzania’s Ruaha landscape, which holds the world’s second largest lion population, but also has extremely high rates of lion killing by local people.

The project conducted educational Park visits for villagers to learn first-hand about wildlife conservation. Ruaha is East Africa’s biggest National Park, but under-resourced local people are unable to visit it. They therefore only experience wildlife when it is posing a danger to them, and are antagonistic towards the Park and its wildlife. However, to date over 1000 people from 16 villages have participated in the project, and now over 95% report improved attitudes towards wildlife.

Upon receiving the award, Dr Dickman said: “I am thrilled that the project has been recognised – these awards highlight that researchers across the University are doing meaningful, impactful work which really changes peoples’ lives as well as generating scientific advances.” 

“It is an honour that our work in Tanzania with local communities has been recognised, and I hope this will raise awareness of our work, the importance of lion conservation, and the wider value of engaging people at all levels in Oxford’s research.”

The project also organises educational DVD nights and has engaged over 30,000 local villagers, communicating information about wildlife conservation and the status of lions. Officers in 10 villages have been trained on best-practice livestock protection methods, and young warriors are employed to track lions, prevent lion hunts and protect communities and livestock from lions.

Lion killing has reduced by over 90% in the core study area, therefore improving the outlook for long-term conservation alongside development. The project team are committed to Ruaha and intend to continue and expand their work there, as well as expanding the model to other areas where conflict imposes high costs on both people and wildlife. 

“This award represents an incredible team of people,” said Dr Dickman. “Thank you to over 60 employees in Tanzania, the local communities who have worked so openly with us, and also our donors and supporters, without whom this could never have happened.”