11 February 2020

A final celebration event was held at Tilsley Park to mark the end of the first part of Abingdon Science Partnership’s Royal Society Partnership Grant project on ‘The olfactory response of the European Badger’ carried out in collaboration with D.Phil. candidate Tanesha Allen, of Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU).

Pupils from local schools involved in the project were invited to exhibit their work for visiting parents and guests at the event. The opening speaker was Professor David Macdonald, Director of WildCRU, who gave a personal account of his career in wildlife conservation research, starting as a young graduate student working in Borneo on Proboscis Monkeys and filming with the legendary Sir David Attenborough.

This was followed by a presentation by his son, Dr Ewan Macdonald (OA 2002) on his fascinating research into human-wildlife conflict in Zimbabwe and how market research techniques have been used to study differences in which wild animals people think should be protected in different cultures. Internationally, big cats and elephants feature prominently in the top ten whereas in Zimbabwe, where elephants destroy crops and lions kill cattle, more benign creatures such as antelope, zebra and smaller mammals are favoured.

Following the formal talks, visitors enjoyed refreshments and talked to the pupils and other visitors about their projects. We were very pleased that Olivia Philipps, Schools Engagement Manager at the Royal Society, was able to attend along with representatives of the Sumatran Orangutan Society, based in Abingdon, and a colleague of Tanesha’s from WildCRU who has won an award for developing a wildlife conservation board game which the pupils all enjoyed playing.

The project has allowed a growing network of local schools to engage with Tanesha’s research, giving pupils an alternative view of science when applied to field research and animal behaviour studies.

The team from Fitzharrys School has been so inspired by their involvement that they have agreed to take over responsibility for the future of the project by applying for an extension grant from The Royal Society to develop new ideas and to collaborate with researchers running similar school camera trap networks at Royal Holloway College London.

Through social media exposure, the project has also come to the attention of a group at the University of Utah who are aiming to set up a similar project for schools in Salt Lake City and have asked the Abingdon team for advice.

As usual, scientific endeavour is truly international, leading to ideas and friendships which cross boundaries, break barriers and enrich lives everywhere.

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