Bilal Butt

Associate Professor


PhD, Michigan State University (Geography)

MA, Michigan State University (Geography)

(734) 615-6149


Bilal Butt, PhD, is an Associate Professor in the School for Environment and Sustainability and a faculty affiliate of the African Studies Center. His research is concerned with the political ecology of pastoralism and protected areas in East Africa. He places a large emphasis on empirical fieldwork to understand the lived geographies of the interactions between pastoralists and wildlife in ecologically diverse regions. He combines various geospatial technologies (such as putting GPS units on cows) with historical and ecological dynamics of dryland environments to understand how people, wildlife and livestock are coping with and adapting to changes in climate and politics. He is also interested in the ways that scientific and technical appraisals of rangeland peoples and environments have misread the landscape, leading to orientalist approaches to development programs. He has also had a long history of engagement on questions of environmental conflicts, particular around wildlife poaching, land grabs and green eneregy. Dr. Butt is an NSF Career Award winner and has published in diverse journals such as the Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Remote Sensing of Environment, Journal of Applied Ecology and Humanity. He teaches courses on Conservation and Development, Political Ecology, Environmental Security and Conflict, Environmental Governance, and Preparing for International Fieldwork. 

  • 2018: African Heritage and Humanities Initiative: A People's History of the Maasai Mara

  • 2016: NSF CAREER Grant: Situated Resilience and the New Geographies of Wildlife-Livestock Relationships.

  • 2013: African Studies Center Research Grant: Technologies of Conversation Governance and State Surveillance in Kenya's Protected Areas.

  • 2012: NSF Starter Grant, Division of Biological Infrastructure: Understanding savanna vegetation dynamics in East Africa under different off-take methods and precipitation regimes.

  • 2011: SNRE SEED Grant: Science, Practice, and Public Participatation: Natural Resource Monitoring in African Protected Areas.


2017:Faculty Affiliate: Department of Environmental Studies and Community Development, Kenyatta University

2017: Faculty Affiliate: Science, technology and Public Policy Program, University of Michigan

2017 & 2018: University of Michigan: Nominated for outstanding faculty award by SNRE student government

2016:  National Science Foundation: CAREER Award – Geography and Spatial Sciences (NSF’s most prestigious award in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations).

2016: University of Michigan: Nominated for outstanding faculty award by SNRE student government

2013: University of Michigan: Nominated and recognized by undergraduate students and the provosts office for efforts to advance global engagement

2012: University of Michigan: Nominated by undergraduate students for efforts to advance global engagement

2008: Honorary Fellow Land Tenure Center, Nelson Institute of Environment Studies, University of Wisconsin

2008: National Science Foundation: Minority Postdoctoral Fellow, Division of Biological Infrastructure

2008: Michigan State University: Gill-Chin Lim award for outstanding doctoral dissertation in global studies

Select publications: 

* Indicates Student Co-Author

2019 Adunbi, O. and Butt, B. “Africa Meets China, China Meets Africa: Financing, Infrastructure, and Resource Extraction in Africa” Africa 89(4) Forthcoming

2018 Butt, B. "Environmental Indicators and Governance. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 32: 84-89

2018: Duvall, C., Butt, B. and A. Neely. “The trouble with savanna and other environmental categories, especially in Africa”. In, Handbook of Critical Physical Geography,R. Lave, C. Biermann, and S. Lane, Eds.  Palgrave Publishing.

2017:  *Steger, C.S. Butt, B, and Hooten, M. “Safari Science: Assessing the reliability of citizen science data for wildlife surveys” Journal of Applied Ecology 54(6): 2053-2062 doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.12921 (Open Access)

2016: Butt, B. “Ecology, Mobility and Labor: Dynamic Pastoral Herd Management in an Uncertain World”. Rev. Sci. Tech. Off. Int. Epiz (Scientific and Technical Review of the Office International des Epizooties) 35(2): 461-471 doi: 10.20506/rst.35.2.2530 (Invited Submission to the World Organization for Animal Health on ‘The Future of Pastoralism’)

2016:  Butt, B. “Neoliberalism, Conservation and Dispossession in Kenya’s Arid Lands”. Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development 7(1): 91-110 doi: 10.1353/hum.2016.0009

2016: Turner, M., Butt, B., Singh, A.*, Brottem, L.*, Ayantunde, A., and B. Gerard. “Variation in vegetation cover and livestock mobility needs in Sahelian West Africa” Journal of Land Use Science 11(1): 76-95 doi:10.1080/1747423X.2014.965280

2016: O’Connor, D.* Butt, B. and Foufopoulos, J. “Mapping the ecological footprint of large livestock overlapping with wildlife in Kenyan pastoralist landscapes” African Journal of Ecology 54(1): 114-117 doi: 10.1111/aje.12241

2015: Steger, C.* and Butt, B. “Integrating Citizen Science into East African Protected Areas: Problems and Prospects” African Journal of Ecology 53(4): 592-594 doi: 10.1111/aje.12199

2015: O’Connor, D.* Butt, B. and J. Foufopoulos. “Foraging ecologies of giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata) and camels (Camelus dromedarius Linnaeus) in northern Kenya: Effects of habitat structure and possibilities for competition?” African Journal of Ecology 53(2): 183-193 doi: 10.1111/aje.12204

2015: Butt, B. “Herding by Mobile Phone: Technology, Social Networks and the “Transformation" of Pastoral Herding in East Africa” Human Ecology 43(1): 1-14 doi: 10.1007/s10745-014-9710-4

2014: Butt, B. “The Political Ecology of Livestock Incursions into Protected Areas: Technology, Place and Socio-Ecological Dynamics in the Mara Region of Kenya” Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 84(4): 614-637 doi:10.1017/S0001972014000515

2014: DuPuy, W.*, Benka, V.*, Massey, A.*, Deem, S., Kinnaird, M., O’Brien, T., Wanyoike, S., Njoka, J., Butt, B., Foufopoulos, J., Eisenberg, J., and R. Hardin “Q Fever Risk across a Dynamic Heterogeneous Landscape in Central Kenya” EcoHealth 11(3):429-433 doi:10.1007/s10393-014-0924-0

2014: Brottem, L.*, Turner, M. Butt, B. and A. Singh*. “Biophysical Variability and Pastoral Rights to Resources: West African Transhumance Revisited” Human Ecology 42(3): 351-365 doi:10.1007/s10745-014-9640-1

2012: Butt, B. and Turner, M. D. “Clarifying competition: The case of wildlife and pastoral livestock in East Africa.” Pastoralism: Research, Policy and Practice 2(9): 1-15 doi:10.1186/2041-7136-2-9 Open Access & Most Accessed Article in the Journal’s History

2012: Butt, B. “Commoditizing the Safari and Making Space for Conflict: Place, Identity and Parks in East Africa.” Political Geography 31(2): 104-113 doi:10.1016/j.polgeo.2011.11.002

2011: Butt, B. Turner, M. Singh, A.* & L. Brottem*. “Use of MODIS NDVI to Evaluate Changing Latitudinal Gradients of Rangeland Phenology in Sudano-Sahelian West Africa. Remote Sensing of Environment 115(12): 3367-3376 doi:10.1016/j.rse.2011.08.001

2011: Butt, B. “Coping with uncertainty and variability: The influence of protected areas on pastoral herding strategies.” Human Ecology 39(3): 289-307 doi:10.1007/s10745-011-9399-6

2010: Butt, B. “Pastoral resource access and utilization: quantifying the spatial and temporal relationships between livestock mobility, density and biomass availability in southern Kenya.” Land Degradation and Development 21(6): 520-539 doi:10.1002/ldr.989

2010: Butt, B. “Seasonal space-time dynamics of cattle behavior and mobility among Maasai pastoralists in semi-arid Kenya.” Journal of Arid Environments 74(3): 403-413 doi:10.1016/j.jaridenv.2009.09.025

2009: Butt, B. Shortridge, A. and A. WinklerPrins. “Pastoral herd management, drought coping strategies, and cattle mobility in Southern Kenya.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 99(2): 309-334 doi: 10.1080/00045600802685895

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