Conference success

26th October 2017

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A ‘first time’ presentation by a Wadham graduate student was awarded second prize at a major international Conservation Biology conference this summer.

  • Sam Merson (right) accepts his prize

  • At the ICCB conference

  • Sam Merson

    Back at Wadham's McCall MacBain Graduate Centre

The opportunity for Sam Merson (DPhil Biology, 2013) to present his research on the Malagasy Fosa at the International Congress for Conservation Biology in Cartagena, Colombia was made possible thanks to a generous Wadham alumnus.

Sam was keen to attend the conference, ‘Insights for sustaining life on earth’, but the costs involved would have been prohibitive without help.

His research presentation ‘Poverty and low preference drives the consumption of protected species in Madagascar’ was selected from more than 300 abstracts and came second in the ICCB Best Oral Presentation category.

Sam’s DPhil research focusses on conservation threats to the Malagasy Fosa, a small carnivorous ground and tree dwelling mammal which weighs about seven and a half kilos and primarily eats lemurs. His conference presentation outlined the main drivers of bushmeat consumption in Madagascar. Over a two year period, Sam spent 11 months in Madagascar.

“From my thesis I was able to show that there were two main causes of Fosa death. Firstly, deforestation, which doesn’t kill them immediately but will ultimately lead to their decline. Secondly, and more important to their immediate persecution, is people, who kill them to eat them or because they attack their poultry.”

Hiring local Malagasy students to help with his research, Sam conducted household surveys, gathering socio-economic information about where families are located (in national parks, protected areas, or unprotected areas) and what drove them to kill Fosas.

 “Most of the forest in Madagascar is protected, but a coup in 2009 resulted in a breakdown in law enforcement and so illegal activity including the consumption of bushmeat is taking place in protected areas.”

“This conference is the largest conservation gathering in the world with some 1500 attendees – a wonderful opportunity to present and communicate my research. It was my first oral presentation in front of a large audience and I met lots of interesting people who I will stay in contact with,” he said.

An important step in Wadham’s five-step Access to Excellence Strategy, is to support students into their careers. Sam is confident that this experience was invaluable to his future career in that it enabled him to meet like-minded researchers from across the world. On completion of his DPhil, Sam hopes to work in animal conservation as part of an NGO or zoo.