World-leading zoologist awarded 2019 Linnean Medal

Professor Samuel Turvey awarded prestigious medal for outstanding contributions to the field of zoology

Discovering previously unknown extinct gibbon species in ancient Chinese tombs and identifying new rodent species in fossilised crocodile remains, science’s answer to Indiana Jones has been awarded the Linnean Medal for his outstanding contributions to the field of zoology.

Professor Samuel Turvey from the Institute of Zoology was presented with the prestigious award at the Anniversary Meeting of the Linnean Society on Friday 24th May 2019 at Burlington House, London. 

Photograph at night of Sam wearing thick gloves and holding the small mammal
Sam with a Hispaniolan solenodon in Dominican Republic

Professor Turvey’s work focuses on understanding the impacts of humans on biodiversity through time. Focusing on ecologically fragile island ecosystems and poorly studied regions where modern-day species loss is high, Prof. Turvey’s research has aimed to reconstruct pre-human ecosystems and the chronology, dynamics, and patterns of vulnerability and resilience shown by past and present extinctions. His research provides information critical for developing impactful conservation strategies to protect today’s threatened species.

A founder of our revolutionary EDGE of Existence programme, which aims to put a spotlight on and support conservation of the world’s most evolutionarily distinct and globally endangered species, Prof. Turvey’s research has influenced and informed conservation plans for extremely rare species, including Chinese giant salamanders, saola and solenodons (venomous nocturnal mammals found in Cuba and Hispaniola) that are otherwise difficult to study using traditional methods. 

Photograph of Samuel Turvey holding his Linnean medal
Prof. Turvey has worked on conservation issues in China for over 20 years, using scientific studies to guide effective conservation for Critically Endangered Chinese species. However, his first involvement with conservation was to tragically document the extinction of the Yangtze River dolphin, the first large vertebrate to become extinct in over 50 years, which he recorded in his 2008 book “Witness to Extinction”. 

Professor Turvey said: “It is a supreme and entirely unexpected honour to have won this award. It’s incredible – and humbling – to be awarded the same medal as Alfred Russel Wallace.

“I have been utterly fascinated and captivated by animals for as long as I can remember, and I spent my childhood inspired by the wildlife surrounding my Finnish grandparents’ farm – species such as corncrakes, wrynecks and red-backed shrikes, which we’ve now largely lost in the UK.

“Sadly, some of my key research has dealt with the loss of species, but we have to use this to further our understanding of the species and ecosystems that are most vulnerable to human activities.

“I truly believe it’s never too late to try and save the biodiversity that has always inspired me, even when highly threatened species have become reduced to a handful of surviving individuals.”

One of the most prestigious awards in Zoology, the Linnean Medal, presented by the Linnean Society, was first instituted in May 1888 and is awarded annually as an expression of the Society’s esteem and appreciation for service to science. 

Professor Ken Norris, Director of Science at the Institute, explained: “This is a remarkable achievement. Professor Turvey conducts ground-breaking research on how humans have changed wild nature, and thoroughly deserves his place alongside the illustrious winners of this medal.”

Professor Dame Georgina Mace, who nominated Prof. Turvey, said: “Professor Turvey has made major contributions in several distinct areas of natural history. This award recognises his innovative approach to carefully documenting species extinctions over the deep past [fossil record], human history, the contemporary period and into the future. His broad and informed approach provides a completely new perspective on the current extinction spasm and offers new ways to plan conservation responses.”

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