Staff Spotlight: Sam Hyde Roberts

Executive Director of Azafady Conservation Program


Sam is an aspiring evolutionary ecologist and conservation biologist with a broad range of taxonomic interests. After graduating with degrees in both Zoology and Ecology Sam soon moved from the cold of North Wales to the tropics in pursuit of his passions - wildlife conservation and biodiversity. Sam has since travelled, lived and worked in some of the remotest and most spectacular places on Earth, spending the past few years managing conservation projects in Madagascar. Having worked with a diverse range of wild animals, including Lemurs, Bats, Snakes and Dolphins - Sam has a special passion for Amphibian and Lepidopteron diversity.

What position do you hold at Azafady? What has been your career path so far?

I have recently vacated the position of conservation coordinator at Azafady, a position I genuinely loved. However I have now taken up a slightly different role to any that I have held before, as a conservation consultant helping to support the field research team, direct the research agenda and help with grant proposals. I graduated from Bangor University in 2009 and have been working in conservation ever since. I first started out as a volunteer, working with a few conservation charities in Wales and around Europe, and gradually gained field experience whilst putting the skills I learnt at University into practice. I was lucky enough to work under and alongside some hugely inspiring individuals along the way and always consider myself very fortunate to do the work I do. In the field of conservation there is always a sense of pressure to get things done, with a seemingly growing list of threats to wildlife and the environment, I very rarely get near completing my daily to do lists!

What is your favorite volunteer abroad memory?

I remember very clearly one night in the middle of a forest in Aggtelek National Park, we had been invited to the home of a Professor, who is an expert in the field of European butterflies and moths. After a walk of an hour or so through forest we arrived at the house, the gabel end lit up with incandescent bulbs specifically designed to attract moths and other insects. I was staggered by the sheer abundance and diversity of moths, the air was thick with an unbelievable variety of species. This really triggered a passion in me. At the time I was reading a book authored by E.O. Wilson - The Diversity of Life and combined that was that! Only twice since have I seen moths in such numbers and such abundance as that. Once in Ranomafana NP in Madagascar and once in a remote forest in southwestern Costa Rica. They are very rare and special nights!

What does the future hold for Azafady - any exciting new programs to share?

Extremely exciting!! I do not really want to reveal our recent findings here, but we have some astounding findings which have been thrown up through our recent genetic work. We have been working on some majorly important conservation projects over the past 14 months and we are hoping that our latest findings will strengthen our case to protect several ecologically valuable forest fragments, which are presently under threat from mining exploitation.

What about the future of the industry? How do you think volunteer abroad and international education will change over the next 10 years?

This is a very challenging question. Unfortunately from a conservation perspective, volunteer programs naturally seek remote and beautiful locations, however the effects of human disturbance are detrimental to sensitive wildlife communities. With an ever-increasing number of people looking to volunteer abroad, and more and more organizations - it is now up to the industry to ensure good practices are enforced and that projects do not negatively impact on the country and environment they are situated in. I would strongly advise any potential volunteers to thoroughly research the organization they sign up with, read external reviews and canvas opinion from past volunteers. There is now a huge selection of volunteering opportunities available, and there are a highly variable range of principles and business models behind the companies who run them. Research is essential before signing your up for a volunteer abroad experience.

Which volunteer abroad destination is most underrated? Conversely, which is most overrated?

I am afraid I couldn't answer this question as I haven't been to enough places!! :)

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

The right support is vital. I have been exceptionally lucky working with Azafady, as the support they have given me has been exceptional, both from a personal and professional perspective. Having worked with myriad organizations over the years, I believe that there is a huge difference between the various organizations and the work that they do and opportunities they provide. I think the thing that really sets Azafady apart is their commitment and trust in their staff, and the backing and help they provide.

What country have you always wanted to visit?

Very contrasting climates but both Greenland and Guyana have always attracted me. Greenland for wilderness, isolation and beauty, and Guyana for biodiversity!

What's your favorite ethnic dish?

Again, I am torn between Welsh rarebit and Zebu Brochette's with sakai!

Why is language learning and cultural immersion important to you?

The expertise you miss without having members of the local communities involved on your project and working closely with you are irreplaceable. Having a connection to the local community and environment is essential if a project is to be truly successful, and only through committed community education and support can any conservation initiative be long lasting. Good communication is key to this, and language learning and understanding the culture you are in is essential.

What was your favorite traveling experience?

This is another tough question! There have been so many but I am always most excited about the next trip!

What language have you always wanted to learn and why​?

My French has greatly improved over the years spent in Madagascar, and I hope to become fluent one day. I think it is a beautiful language, and a full cognizance would open up a whole new region of the world for me. Also, there is a great deal of important and useful literature that I am currently missing! For example, a lot of the great and historic butterfly studies conducted in Madagascar are in amazingly illustrated old French books and presently there are no modern texts. These hundred year old books are still the best sources of information available!

What unique qualities does your company possess?

An unshaking commitment to a single region and its communities. All of Azafady's resources and considerable efforts are directly focused into improving and safeguarding some of the poorest and isolated communities and environments on Earth. Through a holistic approach, Azafady are committed to safeguarding and providing genuine sustainability and development to an area with outstanding yet highly threatened biological wealth.