The nice thing about mixing with conservation biologists is the enthusiasm they have for the natural world. That's something I do enjoy about meetings on conservation.

Nonetheless, it's also got to be one of the most depressing disciplines within biology. There is kind of a popular view of conservation, one that portrays biologists as struggling against the odds to bring species after species back from the brink of extinction. That's probably what we all aspire to achieve.

The reality is actually a bit grimmer. What we really are doing is recording the loss of biodiversity. A great deal of research is about the loss of more and more populations, the increasing catalogue of threats facing nature. The sudden upswing in extinction rates we've caused is showing no signs that it's abating. Poaching of tigers is still as serious as ever despite three decades of efforts to bring it under control. Poaching of rhinos and elephants is now worse than the horror days of the 1980s.

The reserves that are established aren't sufficient to arrest these declines. There's too much poaching, or too many invasive species, or there's civil insurrection or illegal mining and forestry, or the reserves are actually getting delisted, or the reserves are too small to sustain viable populations, or they're too far apart from others to cope with environmental changes.

It's a pretty depressing time to be concerned about this planet's wildlife.