Tony Whitten

Tony Whitten


I was an odd bird at the World Bank - a wildlife biologist working as the Senior Biodiversity Specialist in our East Asia and Pacific Region.  I left the Bank in September 2010 for reasons explained in the final blog.

If I were fabulously rich I'd probably be doing something similar to what filled most of my time - but without the bureaucracy.

My first research was on ducks' sense of smell and my second paper was on the mating display of the Blue Duck.  I moved from waterfowl to primates for my PhD, studying the endangered Kloss gibbon (and the people) on remote Siberut Island, west of Sumatra. That unwittingly set the course for the rest of my life in terms of commitment to our region. That also resulted in my first 'popular' book; for nearly 20 years I had one or more books on the go. With gibbons behind me, I began work as Advisor in the Centre of Environmental Studies at the University of North Sumatra. Seeing the capacity problems facing environmental management in Indonesia, I initiated a series of major ecology books on different areas of Indonesia.

Over the following 12 years - most of those in Indonesia - I wrote three of the volumes (on Sumatra, Sulawesi, and Java and Bali) while employed by Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia.  During the ten years living in Indonesia I became very involved with freshwater fish and also land snails and ended up writing books on those too.  Meanwhile I consulted for most of the major development agencies on land settlement, indigenous people, forest issues, and biodiversity. I came into the Bank through being a consultant for its independent evaluations arm working in Malaysia and Indonesia on land settlement and transmigration. I joined the Bank in 1995.

My World Bank work was of three types: support to others' projects on habitat policy issues, regional initiatives, and my own conservation projects in Mongolia, China, Indonesia, etc.  The first of these I found very stimulating and satisfying; seeking to find practical and sustainable solutions while allowing the projects to deliver their benefits.  My regional initiatives sought to fill important gaps and to get Bank imprimatur on important topics and approaches that were not commonly supported.  These included publications etc on:

  • the largely ignored biodiversity of limestone systems especially caves which have had interesting operational implications
  • freshwater biodiversity, especially on wild fish which are economically important, especially to poor riparians.   
  • local-language fieldguides - we now tally 111 volumes  
  • faiths and environment, an initiative which has led to a number of interesting developments