Foreigners have dominated scientific research in Madagascar, with more than 9 out of 10 publications on biodiversity led by foreigners from 1960 to 2015.A series of programs aimed at boosting early career Malagasy scientists is now bearing fruit as local researchers take on leadership roles in conservation.But Madagascar’s higher education system remains weak and deeply under-funded, so that the best chance of rigorous training and support for graduate work often comes through connections overseas.This is the fourth story in Mongabay’s multi-part series “Conservation in Madagascar.” ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar — Nothing says patience quite like tromping around wet woods in the middle of the night to collar bats and track them back to their daytime roosts. And creativity certainly played a role in a recent study tracking the bushmeat trade by scouring urban dumps for tortoise shells. Julie Hanta Razafimanahaka was a co-author of each of those efforts. But ask her what it takes to become a field biologist in Madagascar and you’ll get a different answer altogether. “Well,” Razafimanahaka said, “you have to be very lucky: that’s the first thing.” And it helps to be friendly too. “That doesn’t mean there’s no chance, it means you really have to talk with many people,” she added — especially researchers with foreign passports. Razafimanahaka got involved in the research project that led to her masters’ thesis not because she was particularly interested in bats, she recalled, but because she was able to finagle a meeting with a Welsh researcher doing fieldwork in her favorite part of Madagascar — the castle-like limestone formations of Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park. Nearly fifteen years later, she can trace the arc of her career back to that first meeting. The fieldwork in Tsingy de Bemaraha was part of a series of projects run by scholars at the University of Aberdeen with backing from the British government aimed at building up the CVs and skill sets of a new generation of Malagasy biologists to work on bat conservation. Yet when the fieldwork wrapped up in 2004, Razafimanahaka recalled, she and her peers found themselves out of work and feeling like the research they’d been part of was unlikely to yield much benefit for Madagascar. Today, Razafimanahaka runs an NGO called Madagasikara Voakajy, founded in 2005. For her, it’s a chance to follow through on the conservation recommendations that are often featured in academic papers on Madagascar but seldom heeded. Grandidier’s baobab (Adansonia grandidieri), a species Madagasikara Voakajy currently works to conserve. Photo by Bernard Gagnon via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0. Voakajy now works at seven small sites across Madagascar that the group helped to attain protected status. “There were researchers who worked there before,” Razafimanahaka said of Voakajy’s sites. “And I think this applies almost everywhere in Madagascar. Researchers from overseas would come and do research — generally they won’t come back to tell you what they found. The difference in the protected areas where we’ve been working is we did research, and we came back, and talked with people about what we found. And discussed with them what should be done next. And now we are doing these those things,” she said. “I think that makes a big difference.” In recent years, a growing chorus of conservationists has pushed for more Malagasy leadership in local research, arguing that the work of Malagasy scientists is most likely to take root in conservation policy and practice over the long-term. Despite Razafimanahaka’s early frustrations, Voakajy’s creation is itself an indication that foreign partnerships can have lasting impact. Early international collaborations like the one that helped spawn Voakajy also launched the careers of a cohort of Malagasy scientists. Gradually, researchers like Razafimanahaka are stepping out of the shadows of their better-funded counterparts from overseas. How much farther the next generation will go, though, depends on how much can be done to shore up Madagascar’s higher education system.