FOSZ Conservation Scholar Program

FOSZ Conservation Scholar Program

This annual scholarship supports the next generation of conservation-minded professionals. The scholarship covers an active college student's expenses related to a field conservation project; two awards are granted each year, a $2,000 graduate student scholarship and a $1,000 undergraduate student scholarship. The deadline for applications in 2017 was Friday, March 24, 2017, 5:00 PM CST.

FOSZ Conservation Scholarships may be used for direct costs related to the Scholar’s field work, including research that helps protect species in the wild, or protection of species or ecosystems in situ; awareness-building through informational/educational materials conducted on behalf of a non-governmental organization (NGO) that publicizes conservation; or outcome-oriented education programs that target an audience that directly impacts the species or habitat of concern. The complete definition of “field conservation” can be found on the AZA website.

The FOSZ Board of Directors is the sole body responsible for determining the award of scholarships. Applicants will be notified of the Board’s decision in writing by the President of the Friends of Sunset Zoo Board.

2021 Awardees:



Devin Chen


Doctoral student in Wildlife, Fisheries, & Aquaculture - Forest Resources
Mississippi State University

Project Title: Conserving North America's Endangered Salamander Species Through Reproductive Technologies And Biobanking
Award Amount: $2,000

Project Description: This project addresses the major amphibian extinction crisis that our world is presently facing. Over 41% of amphibians are currently faced with extinction according to the latest IUCN report. The negative impacts of habitat loss and chytrid fungus on amphibian species make them especially at risk. I hope to address this issue by implementing field research in tandem with zoo-based research to help protect amphibian species by monitoring their populations, biobanking genetic information, and leading reintroduction efforts. A concerted effort between in situ and ex situ efforts is urgently needed in order to protect their populations. This project will help achieve this goal by: 1) providing a hedge against extinction via biobanking, 2) developing effective reproductive protocols for reintroduction programs, 3) generating offspring for recovery efforts, and 4) learning more about species’ reproductive ecology that can assist management efforts related to habitat restoration in the future.


Li-Dunn Chen


Doctoral student in Animal Physiology
Mississippi State University

Project Title: Bolstering the Genetic Diversity of Critically Endangered Puerto Rican Crested Toads Through Assisted Reproductive Technologies
Award Amount: $2,000

Project Description: Puerto Rican crested toads (PRCT) are a Critically Endangered amphibian species on the brink of extinction due to habitat loss and stochastic weather events. Many captive assurance colonies struggle to maintain and consistently produce genetically valuable individuals, which further contributes to the loss of genetic diversity in PRCTs. Only 16 out of 48 founder individuals in the present Species Survival Plan are actively contributing to the genetic diversity in captive populations. We seek to address the threats of extirpation that the PRCT face by linking in-situ and ex-situ populations through the utilization of Assisted Reproductive Technologies. This research, which entails the collection of gametes from PRCTs in-situ, will ensure the longevity of PRCTs through the contribution of their sperm to the National Amphibian Genome Bank; such sperm samples will be applied to ex-situ populations via in-vitro fertilizations to bolster the genetic diversity of this species.


Sarah Farinelli


Doctoral student in Environmental Science and Policy
George Mason University

Project Title: Using Innovative Technologies to Assess the Status of the Threatened African Manatee and Hippopotamus in Nigeria
Award Amount: $2,000

Project Description: The main goal of this project is to advance conservation for two threatened freshwater mammals and promote human-wildlife coexistence in Nigeria. This goal will be accomplished by completing the following objectives of the project that are related to field conservation: 1) Determine population abundance and distribution of the hippopotamus at three of the four focal sites, and determine the distribution of manatees at all four focal sites, 2) Test the use of tethered blimp and aerial drones to accurately census hippo populations and assess environmental variables that affect detectability and effectiveness of use, 3) Test the use of a tethered blimp, aerial drones, side-scan sonar, underwater drone, and presence of feeding signs to accurately determine the distribution of manatees and assess environmental variables that affect detectability and effective use, 4) Identify major threats to hippos and manatees in focal sites, 5) Conduct training programs to build capacity for improved wildlife monitoring and management among state government agencies, national parks, and college faculty and students, 6) Distribute educational materials to local communities and other key stakeholders.