John Scanlon AO

Distinguished Alumni Award recipient 2023

John Scanlon AO is a passionate environmental lawyer, leader and policy maker who has dedicated his career to a wide range of environmental causes. Most notably, he is working to end wildlife crimes, including trafficking and poaching, on a global scale. He was awarded a 2023 Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Adelaide. He holds a number of senior positions including CEO of the Elephant Protection Initiative Foundation, Chair of the UK Government Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund, and Trustee with the Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) Kew.

Throughout his career, which has spanned multiple industries and continents, a central thread has connected his different roles and accomplishments: an appreciation for nature that was born during his childhood in the Adelaide Hills. “From as far back as I can remember, I loved nature. I loved the sharks, the spiders, the lizards.” John’s interest in the law developed much later, and he completed a Bachelor of Laws at the University of Adelaide in 1983. “It was Professor Rob Fowler who introduced me to the idea that you could marry law and environment,” he says. It was this realisation that ultimately led him to discover his passion and life’s work. He returned to the University and graduated with a Master of Laws in Environmental Law in 1995. Even before he began working internationally, John has always thought about his environmental work on a global scale. “I grew up in South Australia, but I’m a first generation Australian. I’ve got a British father, a Swedish mother… I grew up with an international mindset.

A portrait of John Scanlon in the street

John Scanlon AO
Bachelor of Laws 1983, Master of Laws (Environmental) 1995

“Priority one for me is to help countries agree to a new global agreement on how to strengthen international cooperation to prevent and combat wildlife trafficking.”

“We have so many different environmental challenges at the moment, but so many different perspectives. I’m motivated to find the common ground that will move us forward. Priority one for me is to help countries agree to a new global agreement on how to strengthen international cooperation to prevent and combat wildlife trafficking.”

John was recognised for his work towards this goal, being awarded a Member of the Order of Australia in 2011 for service to environmental law nationally and internationally, and subsequently an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2019 for distinguished service to wildlife and flora conservation and protection through roles with international organisations. In 2023 John was presented with the Chinese Government Friendship Award in Beijing, China. From family, teachers and colleagues in Adelaide, to mycologists in London and environmental lawyers in Peru, John has found people and perspectives that continue to inspire him to do his important work. While he now lives and works overseas, John retains a close connection to Adelaide, and is proud to be an alum of the University. “It means so much to me to find that in my home city, my home university, where I learnt about the law, that they’ve recognised what I’ve managed to do over the course of my career.”

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