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Wilderness Specialist Group

Expanding opportunities to protect wilderness around the world

Photo © AJ Robbie

The Wilderness Specialist Group (WSG) is organized under the auspices of the World Commission for Protected Areas (WCPA) of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Originally initiated by WILD as a WCPA ‘Task Force’ in 2003, it was  recognized as a permanent ‘Specialist Group’ in 2009.  The objectives of the WSG include promoting research and discussion on the importance of wilderness; integrating wilderness into the WCPA protected area guidelines and publications; creating the best global wilderness policy; and serving as a liaison between IUCN-WCPA and the World Wilderness Congress.

Policy Brief: Infectious Diseases: Wilderness, Wildlife, Climate and Biodiversity

20 July 2020

Infectious Diseases: Ecology, drivers, climate breakdown & the need for nature action.

Background: Human Transformation of Nature is the Prime Driver of Infectious Diseases

The transformation of nature, and especially of primary ecosystems, has increased the exposure of humans to pathogens originating in wildlife. Together with the industrialization of food production both on land and in sea and the conversion of land for farming and extractive industries, conversion has accounted for almost half of all global zoonotic infectious diseases. The fragmentation of natural landscapes, with less top predators, further increases the risks. Commercialization of wildlife as human food has contributed to several significant zoonotic infectious disease transmissions to humans. Biodiversity hotspots in tropical regions, with higher number of mammal species and larger pool of pathogens, might contribute more to the disease emergence risk.

Read the full document

John Waithaka named WSG Co-Chair

The IUCN Wilderness Specialist Group is pleased and honored to announce that John Waithaka is our new Co-Chair, joining Vance Martin (the founder and Co-Chair of the WSG), Sarah Casson (Manager of the WSG), and the global membership of the WSG. John’s life experience, professional expertise, and personal integrity are superb contributions to the work of the Wilderness Specialist Group. He joins and helps guide our team as we continually strengthen the importance of wilderness (Category 1b) in addressing climate change and providing life-supporting ecological service at local, national, and global scale. Please see below for his bio and photograph. Contact Sarah Casson ([email protected]) with any questions.

About John Waithaka

John Waithaka has deep connections with nature right from his upbringing. Born just outside the boundary of the Aberdare National Park and Forest Reserve in Kenya, he grew up as a shepherd boy in a very traditional setting. His community shared the land with wild animals and outside influence was minimal. He did not go to school until he was 10 years old as his father did not see the value of formal education. He later specialized in conservation biology and started working with researchers who were studying some key endangered species in the country. He soon became a crusader for community-based conservation as he could not see a future for wildlife without the support of the people who shared their land with the animals.

Over the years, John has worked in various capacities including as a lecturer at Kenyatta University, elephant programme coordinator for Kenya, deputy director at the Kenya Wildlife Service, manager of the European Union’s Biodiversity Conservation Programme and director of the African Conservation Center. He moved to Canada in 2003 and worked with Parks Canada as a conservation biologist until he returned to Kenya in January 2017.

John joined the IUCN in 1992 as a member of the SSC – African Elephant Specialist Group. Currently, he is serving as the WCPA Regional Vice Chair for East and Southern Africa and as a member of the IUCN World Heritage Panel and IUCN Green List of Protected Areas Management Committee. He is also a Co-Editor of PARK – the IUCN-WCPA International Journal of Protected Areas and Conservation.

He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Botany and Zoology (University of Nairobi), MSc in Biology of Conservation (University of Nairobi) and a Ph.D. in Zoology (Kenyatta University, Nairobi).

John’s passion is to contribute towards the achievement of the IUCN global vision of a “just world that values and conserves nature.”

Senior Policy Adviser at WILD and IUCN-WCPA Vice Chair for World Heritage (and Chair of WCPA World Heritage Network) leads on guidelines for World Heritage, Wilderness and Large Land and Seascapes

The guidelines provide an overview of the contribution of the World Heritage Convention to wilderness protection globally to date, explain why wilderness and large land and seascapes are crucial to the objectives of the Convention and outline how the World Heritage Convention could be leveraged for more wilderness protection in the future.

View the guidelines here >

A few outstanding accomplishments include:


In an effort to enhance the worldwide wilderness community and fulfill the mission of the Wilderness Specialist Group, WILD provides secretariat services for the WSG. In 2016 the Wilderness Specialist Group produced “Wilderness Protected Areas: Management Guidelines for IUCN Category 1b Protected Areas”. These guidelines were launched at the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Leadership of the WSG consists of:

Vance G. Martin

Founder and Co-Chair of the WSG and President of the WILD Foundation

John Waithaka

Co-Chair of the WSG and WCPA Regional Vice Chair for East and Southern Africa

Zhang Qian

Manager of the Wilderness Specialist Group

If you are a member of the IUCN, interested in or experienced with wilderness issues, please join us! Contact Zhang Qian with the subject “Wilderness Specialist Group.”

Join the Wilderness Specialist Group

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