Liv Baker

Liv

Undergraduate Discipline

Biology

BA, Mount Holyoke College. MSc, University of Massachusetts, Amherst. PhD, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. A conservation behaviorist and expert in wild animal wellbeing, her research focuses on human-animal relationships and how individual animals engage with their environments; the roles wild animals have in the health of their social groups, cultures, and populations—exploring the similar patterns of well-being and behavior seen across the animal kingdom; seeing that animals want to learn about and hold sway over their lives; that good psychological health corresponds to good physical health; that social context matters; and that positive emotions and challenges are not luxuries but are integral elements to being alive. Conservation and well-being research involves a range of wild animals, including elephants, primates, arachnids, rodents, and macropods. Select recent publications include, “Psycho-ecological autonomy and wildness: An observational study of rewilded Asian elephants in Thailand (forthcoming); “Conservation, Animal Well-being, and Indigenous Participation at an Elephant Sanctuary in Mondulkiri, Cambodia” (2023); “Ethics, Well-being, and Wild Lives (2023); “Asian elephant rescue, rehabilitation, and rewilding” (2020). SLC, 2023–

Undergraduate Courses 2023-2024

Biology

Animal Behavior

Open, Seminar—Fall

Behavior is the complex manifestation of multifaceted phenomena. Behavior involves the integration, synthesis, and sorting of vast amounts of biological information—from the molecular, cellular, and physiological to the cognitive, emotional, and psychological. Genetics, lived experience, embodied knowledge, and evolutionary legacy are all at play in the existence, persistence, and shaping of behavioral expression within and across lineages. Studying behavior provides insight into the interior lives of other animals and how they relate to and respond to their worlds, including a better understanding of their abilities to contend with environmental, social, and emotional challenges. Behavior can be studied at the level of the individual, group, and species. Studying animal behavior also provides awareness into our own species. In this course, we will explore the fascinating and complex world of other animals through the lens of behavior. We will begin to understand the relationship between nonhuman animal and human behavior, realizing that an understanding of human behavior depends to a large part on understanding nonhuman animals. We will develop skills to articulate the evolutionary history of a species’ behavior, the developmental history of an individual’s behavior, and the impact of evolution and development on natural selection. We will also investigate anthropogenic effects on animal behavior and begin to understand and articulate the ethical dilemmas posed when studying animals.

Faculty

Wild Animals and Conservation

Open, Seminar—Spring

We live in an increasingly human-dominated world where the places for wild animals are shrinking, causing animals to face an increasing number of threats and translating into populations, species, and ecosystems being in jeopardy. The modern conservation movement developed from concerns over the loss of wilderness and the extinction of species through exploitation. As a result, the well-being of individual wild animals has not been a focus of our conservation practices. Instead, we have tended to focus on the health of populations, preservation of species, and overall biodiversity. But in light of habitat loss, climate change, increased human-wildlife conflict, and the current global extinction crisis, we are wise to rethink how we care for wildlife and nature. While conservation biology and the science of animal well-being share a guiding ethic of the protection of animals, the presence of animal well-being has been slow to emerge in the field of conservation. Recent changes in our understanding of human activity on wildlife—such as overharvesting, pollution, climate change, and habitat loss, as well as the intensification of conservation programs—have necessitated a reevaluation of this separation. This course introduces students to the emerging fields of animal well-being science, compassionate conservation, conservation welfare, and wild-animal welfare. We will explore the shared and conflicting concerns of animal well-being and conservation from both historical and current perspectives. In doing so, we will examine these issues in popular media (film and press, for example) and academic (including scientific) literature. We will explore why some wild animals are considered pest species, why endangered species get special treatment (and if the animals of these species are better off), as well as the issue of keeping animals in zoos in the name of conservation. Major questions for the course will be: When we think about wildlife as individuals…how do our decisions on their behalf change? How do our conservation practices change? How does our relationship with wildlife change? Some topics that we will cover in this course include: human values and attitudes relating to conservation decision-making and norms of conservation practice; the role of science in conservation decisions; ethical questions in conservation practice; presuppositions about nature; human attitudes toward animals; perils of animals in the wild; and application of animal well-being science to conservation issues.

Faculty

Previous Courses

Biology

Conservation Science and Practice: An Introduction

Open, Seminar—Fall

Welcome to an exploratory journey into the heart of conservation science and practice. This course is designed to introduce students to the foundational concepts, critical thinking, methodologies, and ecological principles essential to conservation science, as we foster a profound respect for all forms of life and the ecosystems they inhabit. Through a non-anthropocentric lens, we will interrogate various conservation paradigms and explore innovative strategies that prioritize the intrinsic value of nature. Students will develop critical-thinking skills to evaluate conservation strategies and practices, recognizing the complex interdependencies between humans and the natural world. This course combines “soft” lectures, interactive discussions, case study analyses, and hands-on projects to provide a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter. Students will gain knowledge of practical methods and tools used in conservation science, including fieldwork techniques, data analyses, policy assessment, and ecological models. Students are encouraged to critically engage with the material, participate in debates on controversial topics, and collaborate on projects that propose innovative solutions to real-world conservation challenges. This course is ideal for undergraduates with a general interest in conservation and those interested in environmental science, biology, ecology, and related fields, who seek a deeper understanding of conservation science and are open to challenging traditional viewpoints to explore more inclusive and ethical approaches to conserving our planet.

Faculty

Human-Wildlife Interactions: Analysis, Management, and Resolution

Open, Seminar—Spring

This course delves into the intricate dynamics of human-wildlife interactions, focusing on both the real and perceived conflicts that arise when human and wildlife habitats overlap. This course provides an in-depth analysis of wildlife management practices, the resilience of wildlife populations to traditional control methods, and the ethical considerations in human-wild animal relationships and in wildlife management. The course begins with an overview of human-wildlife conflict (HWC) in order to understand the causes, types, and consequences of these interactions. This sets the groundwork for exploring the complexities of coexistence between humans and wildlife. The course will cover a range of management strategies used to mitigate HWC, including nonlethal and lethal control methods, habitat modification, and the use of technology in wildlife monitoring and management. Discussions will critically assess the effectiveness, sustainability, and ethicality of these approaches. A significant component of the curriculum is dedicated to the ethical considerations in wildlife management, including animal well-being, conservation ethics, and the role of humans in shaping wildlife populations. A core element of this course is a collaborative project with a community partner (TBD) to assess ongoing human-wildlife conflicts in the region. This hands-on project includes: fieldwork to collect data on specific conflict scenarios, such as wildlife damage to agriculture, urban wildlife issues, or the impact of non-native species; data analysis to understand the patterns, scale, and implications of these conflicts; and development of management or mitigation strategies based on scientific evidence and ethical considerations. This course is particularly beneficial for those students seeking to understand the challenges and opportunities in positively facilitating human-wildlife interactions and those aspiring to careers in wild animal protection, conservation, environmental management, or academic research.

Faculty

Intermediate Ethology: Applications and Research in Animal Behavior

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall

Prerequisite: animal behavior course or equivalent

Building on the foundational knowledge acquired in an introductory animal behavior course, Intermediate Ethology delves deeper into the theoretical frameworks and empirical research that define the field. This course is designed to enhance students' understanding of ethological principles and their practical applications in addressing real-world challenges concerning animal care and well-being. We begin with a comprehensive review of essential ethological theories to develop a solid grasp of key concepts, such as innate behaviors, learning, social structures, communication, and evolutionary perspectives on animal behavior. A significant focus will be on the diverse research methods used in ethology, including observational studies, experimental designs, and the use of technology in behavioral research. Students will learn how these methodologies can be applied to study animals in various environments—from the captive to the wild. The course explores the application of animal behavior knowledge in practical settings, addressing the needs of farmed animals, companion animals, animals in research settings, and wildlife. Topics include behavior-based approaches to enhancing animal well-being, designing enriching environments, and strategies for conservation and management of wild populations. Through detailed case studies, students will examine complex behaviors in different species, understanding how ethological principles provide insights into animal well-being and behavior. These case studies will cover a range of scenarios—for example, from social behavior in wolves to cognitive abilities in octopuses—illustrating the applicability of behavioral science in diverse contexts. Students will engage in a close reading of contemporary scientific literature, critically analyzing studies to understand research designs, findings, and the evolution of ethological knowledge. A centerpiece of the course is a semester-long, hypothesis-driven behavioral observation study conducted by each student. This project encourages students to apply learned methodologies to a context of interest, culminating in a research paper that contributes to their understanding of animal behavior. This course is ideal for undergraduate students who have completed an introductory course in animal behavior, biology, or a related field and are interested in advancing their knowledge and research skills in ethology. It is particularly suited for those considering careers in animal behavior, veterinary sciences, wildlife conservation, or academic research.

Faculty