Christian Rutz
New Caledonian crow Author: James St Clair
2023

Christian Rutz

Animal-tracking Pioneer

Birdsong & biosensors

meet christian

Christian Rutz is leading efforts to promote human–wildlife coexistence by combining the powers of community building, inclusive collaboration, and cutting-edge technology. He has broad interests in animal behavior and intelligence, human evolution, animal-tracking technologies, conservation science, and policymaking. A keen fieldworker and explorer, Rutz’s studies of tool use among various bird species provide a non-primate perspective on the origins of human ingenuity, material culture, and technological progress. He is a Rhodes Scholar, a Radcliffe Fellow, a National Geographic Explorer, and serves as President of the International Bio-Logging Society and Chair of the COVID-19 Bio-Logging Initiative, a global research consortium that is analyzing animal-tracking data collected before, during, and after the pandemic lockdowns.

Birdsong & biosensors
Nominated by: Richard Wiese FN'82
Class of 2023 Location Scotland

It is predicted that the world’s urban population will surge from 4.4 billion to 7 billion people by 2050. This dramatic expansion will drive land conversion on a planetary scale, to produce food, extract resources, and establish infrastructure. As a result, the natural world has come under unsustainable pressure from human activity. To address this crisis, the 30×30 and Half-Earth initiatives propose to protect 30 to 50 percent of the planet’s surface. What will happen with the remaining 50 percent? Without immediate action, these unprotected areas will be committed to highly destructive transformation. Therefore, we must develop environmental planning strategies that promote sustainable human–wildlife coexistence.

Until now, innovation has been hindered by our limited understanding of how animal movements and behavior are affected by land modification and human disturbance. Our current method of choice for filling this knowledge gap is bio-logging, the use of cutting-edge miniature “wearables” that remotely record high-resolution tracking data. While our Covid-19 Bio-Logging Initiative is driving transformational advances in our understanding of human–wildlife interactions, it revealed a surprising lack of data from human-modified habitats.

Christian's study site in New Caledonia
Christian's study site in New Caledonia Author: James St Clair

“My vision is to build a scalable network of collaborating teams that will track wildlife across gradients of urbanization, up to 10,000 tagged animals in and around 100 cities around the world in the coming decade.”

- Christian Rutz

In response, I have launched the Urban Exploration Project, the largest animal-tracking study ever conducted, which will drive innovation in environmental planning, inform conservation management and policymaking, and ultimately reveal new pathways for building a future in which humans and wildlife can coexist. My vision is to build a scalable network of collaborating teams that will track wildlife across gradients of urbanization, up to 10,000 tagged animals in and around 100 cities around the world in the coming decade. Importantly, by reimagining the concept of “exploration”—highlighting the importance of also studying nature right on our doorstep—the project will generate the public support needed for achieving sustainable coexistence in the Anthropocene.

there are 49 other visionary explorers

read about the class of 2023