I first met Martin Edwin Nicoll in Antsiranana (Diego), some 25 years ago over dinner at one of his favourite Italian restaurants, on the first floor terrasse overlooking city hall.  I was trying to recruit Martin to come back to work for WWF for a programme in support of Madagascar’s Protected Areas.  As in any conversation you engaged in with Martin, you needed strong rational, Cartesian arguments to sway him.  For Martin was a scientist, he enjoyed and respected rigorous analysis.  He was passionate about many things – astronomy, new scientific discoveries, Orangea protected area near Diego (including its almost extinct palm tree), Madagascar, the latest GPS technology, and the aquatic tenrec he loved so dearly, to name a few of the things that would make Martin happy.

Martin had a fast pen, and could produce high quality (sic) proposals and reports, in record time, in English and in French.  It is telling and fitting that his last professional contribution to Madagascar’s conservation movement, was for the listing of Malagasy dry forests as a UNESCO World Heritage Site – one of many he prepared so carefully and efficiently.

Martin had an encyclopaedic knowledge of Madagascar’s protected areas and its biodiversity.  Few scientists or persons have had such profound impact on a country’s protected areas system.  His contribution was all the more magical for it was for one of the hotspots of our Planet’s biodiversity.

Martin will not be remembered for his fashionable looks, though he could have been an Ambassador for Vuarnet sunglasses, so much he was in love with the only pair of glasses one could really wear and own.  Martin’s ‘uniform’ was monotonous — his salt pepper hair and scruffy beard, were complemented by his worn-out T-shirts, which tightly embraced the shape of his growing belly — blue jeans, brown Timberland shoes, and his black leather jacket worn on cooler days.  In this attire, he would order his preferred breakfast at the terrasse of the Hotel Colbert – “petit pâté salé”, a small salty pastry with paté, and of course a Coke.  He would walk into the office, and in his inimitable French with heavy English accent, say hello to Christiana and Mialy: “Bon-jooor shay-reees…!”

The same Martin, could also be a genuine diplomat of the highest ilk.  More than once, I asked him to represented WWF with Ministers and senior government officials.  Including back to the Seychelles where he did his PhD, to support the country’s efforts to join the Ramsar Convention.

Martin was generous, a very kind person, generous, humble, and demanding as a scientists.  Passionate about conservation in Africa and Madagascar – from Mauritania, to Gabon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Seychelles and his beloved Madagascar, where we wanted to lay in rest forever, near of the Baobab trees and spiny forests of his “native” Toliara.  Madagascar will miss him; we miss you already.  Will be thinking of you as often as we do of Léon. 

Rest in Peace, dear Martin. Jean-Paul Paddack (WWF)

Martin was inspirational.  Every time I had the pleasure to meet him during the 10 years that I was in Madagascar I was left in awe at his great knowledge of the flora and fauna of Madagascar – which was surely unrivalled. I loved the way he become visibly intrigued when presented with a reported sighting of a species from somewhere that he was not expecting. He seemed driven by a life-long interest in nature and the desire to protect wild things in wild places – especially in Madagascar. Richard Jenkins

I am still struggling to cope with the shock and sadness at hearing this news. Martin and I first met in 1985 – at Tsimbazaza, when I had just returned from surveying mammals in Zahemena and he was conducting research for his Smithsonian postdoc. He had an immense impact on my early research and career path, helping me plan my undergraduate project on Malagasy small mammal ecology and providing support and advice throughout my PhD on tenrecs. We went on to work together in the WWF Africa Programme, and our paths crossed again in Switzerland, Kenya and Tanzania, as well as back in Madagascar. He was a joy to work with and to spend time with.

I saw less of Martin in recent years after my move to Switzerland, but whenever I visited Madagascar our friendship continued where it had left off. I was very pleased that on my last trip we had a chance to look for tenrecs and lemurs together again in our old stomping ground of Perinet, rekindling memories of many memorable field trips over the years.

Martin was a passionate and knowledgeable scientist and conservationist, inspiring many he worked with, advised and mentored. His strategic thinking was a great asset in planning and evaluating conservation projects. He was erudite, humorous, generous and sympathetic. While on one hand he was very sociable and gregarious, on the other he was a very private person. He was notoriously difficult to pin down for a meal, and hopeless at personal correspondence.

On the tenrec front, Martin was one of the pioneers of research on tenrecs, a family of mammals still very poorly known when he started his PhD. He went on to produce the first every conservation action plan for tenrecs in 1990, and shortly before his death co-authored an update on the status and conservation priorities of these mammals.  Martin had a lot more left to give – this is a terribly sad time.

Madagascar has lost one of its finest environmentalists, the conservation world has lost a skilled and potent advocate, and I – and many others – have lost a very dear friend. I can’t believe that I’ll never again get a chance to talk tenrecs with Martin over a THB.

Martin touched and enriched the lives of many people from many places and walks of life. I am pleased to see efforts underway to find suitable ways to honour and remember him. I am available to help in any way I can.

In great sadness, PJ Stephenson (IUCN, ex-WWF)

When I first worked in Mauritania in 1996 I read the management plan for the Banc d’Arguin and immediately recognized his unmistakeable and amazingly clear style of writing in French. He was at the vanguard of the new conservation wave of the 1980s and his impact has been immense and lasting and a source of inspiration for many others. As Julie mentions, we were privileged to have worked with Martin on one of his last assignments, the submission for world heritage status for Madagascar’s dry forests. His presentations on the process were as clear, constructive and patient as ever. As a friend and mentor, he would patiently explain any issue and hear out and respond to any contrary argument, but tease you kindly when it was appropriate. He inspired people to achieve and gave praise and encouragement to others.

We will all miss him greatly. Andrew Cooke (Madagascar)

Martin’s conservation impact extends far beyond Madagascar.  As a conservation neophyte, I had the opportunity to shadow Martin in Gabon as we explored the creation of national park in the Gamba region.  Several decades later, I was lucky to reconnect with him in the Madagascar he so loved. His conservation knowledge and passion was always impressive.

It is sad to know that I will not see him again.

My condolences to his friends and family, Lisa Steel (WWF-US)

I was sad to learn about Martin’s passing yesterday. He will be sorely missed, as a friend and a colleague. His great contributions to conservation, rational development, and to each of us as individuals is a legacy that will continue to celebrate his life.  Richard Hughes (ex-WWF-Madagascar)

So sorry. Always has the kindest of words for Martin. Behind the rough face was a gentle man. May he rest in peace. Niall O’Connor (ex-WWF)

I have just found your message, along with an outpouring of sadness and affection from many.  Thank you so much for letting me know.  Still lost for words.  Martin was an integral part of Bob’s and my life for so many years – as yours.  I knew he’d had health problems in recent years (of which he never spoke, of course), but not this.  It happened so fast.  I think of him now… kind, bright, funny, endlessly knowledgeable, endlessly working for Madagascar.  No one like him.  I rarely saw him, but already miss him.  The end of an era.  Feeling so very sad.  I will come to the memorial service if I possibly can, and would be very grateful if you could let me know the date when it is set.

With great sadness,

Love, Alison Richard

Very, very sad news.  Martin had a powerful and motivating impact on so many people and projects, and contributed his energy to conserving so much biodiversity across the world. Chris Raxworthy (AMNH)

 I am very sad to hear of Martin’s death and please give my condolences to his family. I first met Martin in 1984 in Perinet at the Train Station Hotel. He was the first biologist I met who worked in Madagascar. We worked closely in the late 1980s and 1990. Very sad news. Dr. Patricia Wright (Herrnstein Endowed Chair in Conservation Biology)

I just heard the incredibly sad news about Martin’s passing.  He was a force of nature, and an inspiration to so many of us.  I’m sending you and all our friends at WWF our deepest condolences, on behalf of all of us at BV.  With deepest sympathy. Alasdair Harris (Blue Ventures)

As Lisa says, Martin’s imprint went far and wide – when I first worked in Mauritania in 1996 I read the management plan for the Banc d’Arguin and immediately recognized his unmistakeable and amazingly clear style of writing in French. He was at the vanguard of the new conservation wave of the 1980s and his impact has been immense and lasting and a source of inspiration for many others. As Julie mentions, we were privileged to have worked with Martin on one of his last assignments, the submission for world heritage status for Madagascar’s dry forests. His presentations on the process were as clear, constructive and patient as ever. As a friend and mentor, he would patiently explain any issue and hear out and respond to any contrary argument, but tease you kindly when it was appropriate. He inspired people to achieve and gave praise and encouragement to others.

We will all miss him greatly. Andrew Cooke (Mikajy)

This is a very sad news. My condolences to Martin’s family and the whole of WWF-Madagascar, I know how close you were. As you say Martin was a very passionate about nature and Madagascar, and I remember he was always positive and eager to work on conservations issues for Madagascar. I wish you and the team strength during this period. Paolo Tibaldeschi (WWF-Norway)

On behalf of WWF Sweden I send our condolences on this great loss for WWF. As you know Martin was a tremendous help in developing the Leading the Change program as well as being a support to us for many years before that. Risa Rosenberg (WWF-Sweden)

I’m just back on emails after the break and devastated to learn of Martin’s passing. 

Martin played a big role in me getting to know conservation in Madagascar, and was a great ally and a friend. I can’t imagine Tana without him. From the outset I really appreciated his efforts to facilitate partnerships between Blue Ventures and WWF as I got started in a daunting new role. Such a passionate, knowledgeable and open man; I always knew that if I needed to get advice, I could give him a call and he’d would have time for me and be generous with his wise insights and perspectives. With both of us travelling frequently between Toliara and Tana, more often than not I would bump into him at the airport and I would both enjoy and learn from the long and fascinating conversation that would ensue. 

Such a loss to your team, and to the conservation community. My thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues, and I am with you in spirit today to remember Martin, if not in person.

All my best wishes to you, your family and your team, Kitty Brayne, Blue Ventures 

I’m honoured to have been asked, as one of Martin’s countrymen, and representative of the British government in Madagascar, to say a few words today.

Since Martin passed away – just a week ago – I have been struck by the warmth and number of messages of condolence and memories of him that have circulated around the conservation and British communities.

What shines out for me is the sheer constancy, and ever presence, of Martin. Those who have worked in Madagascar for decades describe him as one of the first people they met when they arrived. That he mentored them as young conservationists, and then collaborated with them when they became successful in their own careers. That he inspired young students and grizzled old professionals alike. It feels like everyone who has ever worked in conservation in Madagascar knew Martin, and held him in deep respect and affection.

And it is impossible to overstate the importance of his work. To imagine what would now be the state of the biodiversity and protected areas of Madagascar if his intellectual firepower, his grasp of detail, and his passion, had never been brought to bear on the myriad threats and challenges facing them. He made a difference.

Martin was the best of us. Gentle, funny, clever and kind. Private, but also open and giving. And the kind of person that was able to hold on to the deep fascination for, and love of, nature throughout his whole life. The UK has lost perhaps its best-known and most respected ambassador to Madagascar. And we have all lost a dear friend and colleague. For that, and for Martin, we mourn.

But we are perhaps comforted by the knowledge that Martin’s legacy – his extraordinary body of academic work, his projects and programmes, his mentoring and training of others, and his deep strategic thinking – will live on, and its effects will be felt for a long time. And our personal memories – the stories, the field trips, the conversations – will continue to make us smile and reflect. So for that, we are thankful. Dr Phil Boyle, UK Ambassador to Madagascar and Comoros

If you also want to leave a word, a sentence, a paragraph to honor the memory of our dear Martin, we invite you to post your signed tribute in comments.

13 réponses

  1. Paul Racey dit :

    Martin was one of my first PhD students and he introduced me to the Seychelles and tenrecs and then to PJ Stephenson and Madagascar, about which he shared his vast knowledge over many years. I would always try to see him during my annual visits. His help and advice were invaluable but he would never do dinner. Breakfast meetings at the Colbert were OK or a late afternoon drink, until my last visit in 2018 when –for the first time – Martin joined Richard Lewis and I for dinner in the Buffet – so my last memories of him are happy and convivial ones. I am hugely affected by his passing.

  2. Nanie Ratsifandrihamanana - WWF Madagascar dit :

    Martin était un biologiste de la conservation complet. Il avait commencé sa carrière dans le domaine de la conservation en étudiant les tenrecs aux Seychelles puis à Madagascar. Mais, comme peu de taxonomistes peuvent le faire, il aura contribué à la conservation de Madagascar et la sous-région de l’Océan Indien occidental bien au-delà de la conservation des tenrecs. En 1990, il publie avec Olivier Langrand, Revue des aires protégées et de la conservation des écosystèmes à Madagascar, la toute première en son genre, qui restera l’ouvrage de référence pour la planification et la gestion des aires protégées du pays pendant près de trente ans. Madagascar lui doit les tous premiers plans de gestion de ses aires protégées – Andohahela, Montagne d’Ambre, Marojejy, Ankarana – pour n’en citer que quelques-unes, puis en 2001 le tout premier Plan de gestion du Réseau National des Aires Protégées – un plan directeur pour guider la stratégie de gestion du réseau de parcs et réserves de l’ANGAP, aujourd’hui Madagascar National Parks.
    Avec son appui, Madagascar a commencé à utiliser les outils de gestion des aires protégées aux normes internationales comme le Management Effectiveness Tracking Tool – dont l’adoption pour le tout le Système d’Aires Protégées de Madagascar a été officielle depuis 2018. Je crois que chaque jalon important dans l’histoire de la conservation de la biodiversité de Madagascar depuis les années 80 porte d’une manière ou d’une autre l’empreinte de Martin : le Code des Aires Protégées, création de la FAPBM pour laquelle il écrira les documents de projets pour l’allocation des fonds GEF au capital ; inscription des Forêts de l’Atsinanana au Patrimoine Mondial de l’UNESCO, entrée de Madagascar dans l’Initiative pour la Transparence dans les Industries Extractives (ITIE) dans le comité national duquel il a représenté les organisations de la société civile pendant ses premières années – c’est dire la confiance que ces OSC avaient en Martin ! Et tant d’autres choses mais je veux en laisser, sinon vous n’aurez plus rien à dire !
    Impressionant track record et pourtant Martin était l’une des personnes les plus modestes et simples que j’ai connu. Il était pour nous un collègue toujours prêt à aider, généreux de son temps, de ses conseils, de son savoir-faire. Il nous aidait pour les grandes choses – comme développer notre plan stratégique 2016-2020, accompagner des invités de marque sur le terrain (comme le Prince du Danemark) et leur faire découvrir Madagascar, comme dans les petites choses – choisir les photos et textes du calendrier à la fin d’année, ou préparer le thé parfait avec un nuage de lait – et ce sans jamais imposer mais en aidant vraiment. Sa générosité, sa modestie et sa simplicité nous manqueront. Et aussi son infaillible sens de l’humour qui ne ratait pas le moindre détail !
    Avant de partir, Martin travaillait, entres autres, sur deux dossiers que je tiens à mentionner : l’inscription des forêts de l’Andrefana au Patrimoine Mondial de l’UNESCO et le projet d’extension et de consolidation du réseau des aires marines protégées de Madagascar – qui va démarrer incessamment. Jusqu’au bout, il se sera consacré pour Madagascar et sa biodiversité ! Nous lui devons de poursuivre ces efforts, de continuer notre combat pour la nature, la vie, Madagascar ! C’est certainement ce que nous, au WWF nous ferons avec encore plus de force et d’énergie ! Merci Martin et repose en paix !

  3. Dr Kes Smith dit :

    Very sad to hear of Martin’s passing. We have fond memories of him visiting us in Garamba National Park to work on the management plan, and some of the amusing things recorded from him in our quotes book. It would have been wonderful to have been able to visit him in Madagascar, where he was clearly very knowledgeable. Many condolences to family, friends and colleagues.
    (Kes Smith, ex Parc National de la Garamba, now Kenya)

  4. RAMAROJAONA dit :

    Je me rappelle de Martin comme quelqu’un de (faussement) taiseux mais que l’on découvre agréablement et avec surprise, que c’est quelqu’un qui aime discuter, partager ses connaissances, de très généreux, extrêmement gentil (et le mot est faible), et surtout humble, jamais tombé dans la condescendance. Il a beaucoup donné à Madagascar, on ne pouvait que l’apprécier. Quand il entrait dans le bureau de Mialy et Xiana, on ne peut s’empêcher de se demander qu’elle belle humour il va sortir, avec son look unique et son accent bien à lui. C’était un ancien collègue, mais resté « plus qu’une connaissance » agréable. Malgré les années durant lesquelles on ne s’est pas trop croisés, j’étais étonnée qu’il se souvenait de moi lorsque l’on se voyait se temps à autre. Et que l’on reprenne les conversations comme si elles s’étaient arrêtées la veille : bien sûr sur la conservation, les proposals, ….et sur Tuléar et ses environs…..J’espère que ce n’est pas un voeux pieux de ma part de croire que tous les travaux pour lesquels il à contribué pour la biodiversité et les aires protégées de Madagascar vont continuer à être valorisés et inspirants. Fière d’avoir connu Martin. Lantosoa.

  5. Hugh Doulton, Dahari dit :

    Martin was an occasional and generous advisor to our work in the Comoros over the past decade – where he was involved in the 1990s with the original proposals to work towards the first protected areas, and more recently supported management planning for the Mohéli Marine Park. He always made himself available over Skype, or for a drink at the Buffet at the times we crossed in Tana on my trips over. During the last year he provided invaluable advice and guidance as I scoped Maliasili’s implantation into Madagascar, usually dispensed from over the brim of a large glass of red wine during long Saturday afternoons at the Buffet. I am deeply saddened to hear of his passing and will remember in particular his wry wit, his gentle and jocular advisory style, and his encylopedic knowledge of everything Madagascar – including the latest gossip.

  6. Boo Maisels dit :

    In 1977 Martin was a PhD student and I was an undergraduate at Aberdeen University. Paul Racey led us, and several other students, and Paul’s own family, on an unforgettable expedition to the Seychelles where Martin was studying tenrecs. Martin was so knowledgeable and such good company! Our paths crossed many years later in Gabon where we worked on the World Heritage Site dossier for Lope National Park. So sorry to hear of his passing.

  7. Sharon dit :

    On behalf of Martin’s family, we would like to say how comforted we were knowing Martin had so many good friends in Madagascar. We would like to thank all those who supported and comforted him during his illness. My sister and I would like to thank you all for your kindness and support towards us during this very sad time. We know Martin loved the work he did, the country he made his home and we will miss him hugely.
    Martin, you will forever be in our hearts and our thoughts.
    Your sisters Helen and Mary and all the family.

  8. Sharon dit :

    On behalf of Martin’s family, we would like to say how comforted we were knowing Martin had so many good friends in Madagascar and we would like to thank all those who supported and comforted him during his illness. My sister and I would like to thank you all for your kindness and support towards us during this very sad time. We know Martin loved the work he did, the country he made his home and we will all miss him hugely.
    Martin, you will forever be in our hearts and our thoughts.

  9. Harifidy Ralison dit :

    En voyant Martin pour la première fois, je me suis tout de suite rendu compte que c’est quelqu’un qui sort de l’ordinaire. Et difficile d’imaginer le genre de personne qu’il est s’il ne commence à converser. En tant qu’employé du WWF, j’ai eu la chance de le fréquenter souvent et de profiter de la qualité de son esprit stratégique, de ses connaissances et expériences étendues sur la conservation, mais aussi de ses humour, humilité et diplomatie. Une caractéristique clé de son humilité est sa discrétion. Il ne s’imposait jamais plus qu’il n’en faut.
    J’ai beaucoup appris de Martin, et le programme actuel que je coordonne (l’initiative Nord du Canal de Mozambique) lui doit son existence.
    Tu nous manqueras beaucoup Martin. Tu as beaucoup fait, tu mérites de reposer en paix maintenant.

  10. Nikolaus Moller dit :

    I first met and talked to Martin in 1987 either in the famous Kaleidoscope or the Buffet du Jardin in Antananarivo.
    My liveliest memories are about our trips to „somewhere on the westcoast“ while listening to the music of Queen, Phil Collins and Billie Ocean and talking about all kind of things
    Here was a guy who was capable of seeing chameleons and other critters hidden in bushes alongside the road in the middle of the night, and all of this driving and while it rained cats and dogs.
    We usually would stop in Ampijoroa to visit Don (I don‘t remember his last name) and his ploughshare tortoises, drive on to Mahajunga to spend a few nights in the Hotel de France and maybe drive back to Ampijoroa to do a night walk in the forest and meet up with Uel (Samuel) Holmes (does anybody know if he is still alive).
    Martin was my friend and my best man, and I it saddens me that I won’t be able to see him again.

  11. Humphrey Crick dit :

    I am so sad to have only just heard about Martin, but felt i would add a couple of notes anyway. I had the great privilege of sharing a house with him in the early 1980s when we were both writing up our PhD theses (also with Don Thomas, a Canadian who had studied fruit bats in Ivory Coast). It was an amazing house to be part of , and Martin was rather the unacknowledged leader of it. Memories included being woken up every morning by Martin putting Bob Marley’s three Little Birds from the Exodus album on the record player. But mainly, we had endless discussions and disputations about ecology, animal behaviour and conservation down in the Machar Bar near the Aberdeen University Zoology dept – usually spurred on by some outrageous comment by Martin – after several pints of Scottish bitter, martin would really get into his stride and light up a cigar, at which point we’d know we were in for a long session, and he’d float some new controversial conclusion that he’d come up with after having read a scientific paper, which Don or another of our PhD cohort would rise to the bait about. These sessions certainly honed my critical science thinking skills and I think I realised at the time how precious they were. It was always comforting to know that martin was out there in Madagascar, doing good work – but I didn’t realise how good until reading the heartfelt tributes on these pages. I so regret not having sorted out visiting him. But what a privilege to have known him.

  12. David Anthony KIrk dit :

    I am profoundly and deeply affected by Martin’s passing – I only just discovered that he had gone from my mentor and long-term friend, Paul Racey. Martin was an icon and conservation champion for Madagascar and his loss will be felt keenly by the conservation community as ripples of waves washing onto the Indian Ocean shoreline.
    I am saddened that I am late in my tributes but I would like to take this opportunity to say a big ‘sorry’ to Martin, as I can no longer do so in person. Almost 40 years ago to this day I spoke with Martin at the University of Aberdeen Zoology department, shortly after returning as a triumphant 21 year old (with somewhat of a boosted ego) from the fieldwork for my honours thesis on the black-naped hare on Cousin Island, Seychelles.
    Before I left on my adventure – the remnants of a failed expedition attempt – Martin had coaxed and advised me on long-handled nets for catching hares, of the use of radio-transmitters and equipment I would need and the knowledge I needed to gain of the island’s vegetation and topography. But when I returned, Martin was deeply critical of my research fieldwork and told me how I could have done it better. Specifically, I always remember he said that since I only had two radio-transmitter collars for the hares, I should have re-captured my study animals and attached the transmitters to new animals. In retrospect he was probably right, but I had such a struggle to catch the hares in the first place that catching them a second time seemed highly improbable! I didn’t react well to this criticism and unfortunately we never spoke again, even after I had obtained my first class zoology honours degree and Paul wrote that my honours thesis gained one of the highest marks ever awarded in the department!
    I always knew that Martin had gone to Madagascar but his impact on biodiversity conservation there was largely unknown to me (as Humphrey before me, who I also remember well at Aberdeen, together with the late Don Thomas). Instead of pursuing a Ph.D. studying the ecology and conservation management of fruit bats in the Seychelles – something I wanted passionately to do – I ended up going to South America to do my Ph.D. research on Neotropical vultures, and hence via a French-Canadian romantic connection moved to Canada which has been my home for 30 years. But Martin did something I’ve always wanted to do – he had a profound and lasting significant impact on the protected area network and biodiversity conservation of a country in the tropics. And the depth of feeling among the nationals of that country and international tributes are testament to his everlasting conservation legacy. I know there is a big gap where he used to be – but his spirit will live on in the countless young and older people whose lives he touched and in those beloved tenrecs. And lastly, I am sorry, Martin, for not being the bigger person and apologizing during all of these intervening years. I hope you can hear me now in my prayers.

    Je suis profondément touché par le décès de Martin – je viens tout juste de l’apprendre par l’entremise de mon mentor et ami de longue date, Paul Racey. Martin était une icône et un champion de la conservation à Madagascar et son départ sera vivement ressentie par la communauté de la conservation comme les ondulations de vagues sur le rivage de l’océan Indien.
    Je suis attristé d’être en retard dans mes hommages, mais je voudrais profiter de cette occasion pour faire mes excuses à Martin, car je ne peux plus le faire en personne. Il y a près de 40 ans à ce jour, j’ai parlé avec Martin au département de zoologie de l’Université d’Aberdeen, peu de temps après être revenu en tant qu’un jeune triomphant de 21 ans (avec un ego un peu gonflé) du travail de terrain pour ma thèse d’honneur sur le lièvre à la nuque noire sur l’Île Cousin, Seychelles.
    Avant de partir à l’aventure – les vestiges d’une tentative d’expédition ratée – Martin m’avait persuadé et conseillé d’utiliser des filets à long manche pour attraper des lièvres, de l’utilisation des émetteurs radio et de l’équipement dont j’aurais besoin en plus des connaissances dont j’avais besoin pour acquérir la végétation et la topographie de l’île. Mais à mon retour, Martin a vivement critiqué mon travail de recherche sur le terrain et m’a dit comment j’aurais pu mieux le faire. Plus précisément, je me souviens toujours qu’il a dit que puisque je n’avais que deux colliers d’émetteur radio pour les lièvres, j’aurais dû capturer à nouveau mes animaux d’étude et attacher les émetteurs à de nouveaux animaux. Rétrospectivement, il avait probablement raison, mais j’ai eu une tellement de difficulté pour attraper les lièvres pour commencer que les attraper une deuxième fois semblait hautement improbable! Je n’ai pas bien réagi à cette critique et malheureusement nous ne nous sommes jamais plus reparlés, même après avoir obtenu mon premier diplôme en zoologie et Paul a écrit que ma thèse d’honneur avait obtenu l’une des plus hautes notes jamais décernées dans le département!
    J’ai toujours su que Martin était parti à Madagascar mais son impact sur la conservation de la biodiversité là-bas m’était largement inconnu (comme Humphrey avant moi, dont je me souviens aussi bien à Aberdeen, avec feu Don Thomas). Au lieu de poursuivre un doctorat en tant qu’étudiant en écologie et gestion de la conservation des chauves-souris frugivores aux Seychelles – quelque chose que je voulais passionnément faire – j’ai fini par partir en Amérique du Sud pour faire mon doctorat sur les vautours néotropicaux. Ensuite, une connexion romantique canadienne-française a fait que je suis déménagé au Canada mon chez-moi depuis 30 ans. Mais Martin a fait quelque chose que j’ai toujours voulu faire – il a eu un impact significatif profond et durable sur le réseau d’aires protégées et la conservation de la biodiversité d’un pays sous les tropiques. Et la profondeur des sentiments parmi les ressortissants de ce pays et les hommages internationaux témoignent de son héritage éternel en matière de conservation. Je sais qu’il y a un grand écart là où il était – mais son esprit vivra dans les innombrables jeunes et plus âgés dont il a touché la vie et dans ces tenrecs bien-aimés. Et enfin, je m’excuse, Martin, de ne pas avoir été assez mature et de ne m’avoir excusé pendant toutes ces années. J’espère que tu peux m’entendre maintenant dans mes prières.

  13. Graham Bathe dit :

    I met Martin when he was studying tenrecs on Praslin in the Seychelles, and I had arrived as the new warden of Cousin nature reserve. Martin was always helpful, always stimulating, always great company and very very funny. He had an open house for visiting scientists, from which deep debate always ensued. He was just coming to the end of his three year study of ten-recs. We were taken aback however to discover that he was preparing for a tenrec party. His ten-recs had been tracked for the last time, recaptured, and were being opened up again to yield back their transmitters. However, their final service did not end there, because rather than being admitted into convalescence, they were to be served up on the menu. Martin swallowed his guilt along with the ten-recs, which he pronounced as ‘quite delicious, rather like hare’. Martin had become so locally renowned for his interest in bats that he once received a letter from Europe simply addressed ‘Mr Flying Fox, Seychelles’.
    Poor Martin always seemed to be vulnerable to bites and stings in the most sensitive of places. Somehow they seemed to seek him out. Martin was unable to move without putting a vulnerable part of his anatomy in contact with a waiting pair of jaws or stings. He would he discover giant venomous centipedes in his pyjama bottoms, or rather they discovered him, leading to a futile panic to strip off again. His dread of giant centipedes was such that he had nightmares of fighting ones longer than he was, which coiled about him; he would awaken entwined in the sheets.
    It was difficult to talk to him without him leaning on a fence or against a tree where some creature would be lurking. In the woods he would stumble into a swarm of bees. When he took us over slippery terrain to see the Seychelles Cave Swiftlets, he rose from a rock and bumped into a yellow wasps-nest; he immediately raced through the spiny Latannier palms, which pierced him from below whilst an angry horde of yellow wasps pursued at head height.
    The world seemed to be super-charged when Martin was around. Such hilarity, coupled with deep-dive debates. RIP.

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