A couple of primatologists murdered in a South African house

Judith Masters and Fabien Genin


Judith Masters, a world-renowned primatologist specializing in lemurs and other combed-toothed primates, and Fabien Génin, his partner in life and science, were found dead on October 3, apparently victims of a robbery. Police found Masters and Génin tied up in one of the rooms of their Hogsback home that morning, The witness reports. Neither was visibly injured and the cause of death has yet to be determined. A manhunt for the suspect is underway, according to The South African.

The news of their death shook the primatological community. “I am at a loss for words right now with the cruelty of it all. Judith and Fabien were such beautiful souls,” says Brandi Wren, a primatologist at Purdue University in Indiana, who describes the couple as her friends. The South African.

Masters, who was in his 60s at the time of his death, was a professor at the University of Fort Hare (UFH) in Alice, South Africa, and headed the African Primate Initiative for Ecology and Speciation (APIES) research unit. until she retired last year. His 50-year-old partner Génin had worked as a university lecturer and conducted field research for APIES before similarly retiring in 2021 – although he and Master are remained active in the research community, according to an obituary by his colleague Gavin Whitelaw of the Museum of KwaZulu-Natal. “The horrific deaths of Judith and her partner stole the lives of all of South Africa,” writes Whitelaw.

Masters earned undergraduate degrees in biological sciences and zoology before pursuing his doctorate at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, according to his UFH webpage. According to Whitelaw, Masters was known for her outspoken opposition to apartheid, including co-authoring a letter in Nature in 1986 – a year after obtaining his doctorate – that proposed scholars in South Africa be required to openly speak out against discriminatory practices before submitting manuscripts for peer review or participating in the global scientific community. “That way they’ll be forced to show their true colors, so to speak,” the letter read.

From 1987 to 1989, Masters worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University. She subsequently returned to South Africa and in 1997 was appointed Associate Director of the KwaZulu-Natal Museum, a position she held until 2007 when she joined UFH. Shortly after, she founded APIES with the help of Génin and international colleagues.

Génin was trained in his home country of France as an ethologist and physiologist and received his doctorate in 2002, according to News24. He moved to South Africa in 2006 for a position at the KwaZulu-Natal Museum. According to a biography of the speaker published by the African Primatological Society, he was known for his extensive experience in the field. His research has focused on bioacoustics and soundscape ecology, and with an MSc he has contributed to a better understanding of primate biology, including the discovery of a new species of bushbaby in 2017.

Just before their deaths, Masters and Génin had turned to biogeography, seeking to understand how vertebrates had colonized Madagascar, according to an obituary of Masters in Nature. Their most recent paper – presenting evidence that interspecific interactions facilitated colonization of the island by lemurs – was published in August in Linnean Society Biological Journal.

On October 14, the International Society of Primatology announced the creation of the African Primatology Masters and Genin Fund, which will honor the memory of the binomial by supporting research in primatology by nationals of African countries working in continental Africa and Madagascar.

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