Poachers, disease, civil wars, heat, cold, rain, drought, pollution, ignorance, indifference. Those are just some of the challenges faced by the 29 conservationists, three of whom are Stony Brook University faculty members, who have devoted their lives to saving the Earth’s endangered species and have been nominated to receive the biennial Indianapolis Prize, the world’s leading award for animal conservation.
Patricia Wright, Director of the Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments and Professor of Biological Anthropology at Stony Brook, has been recognized for her tireless work with lemurs in Madagascar using science-based conservation. Early in her career Wright made history when she discovered the golden bamboo lemur, a species that was then unknown to science and that helped to catalyze the formation of Madagascar’s park systems. A short time later Wright learned that timber exploiters were logging its rain forest habitat, so she spent months trekking to delimit park boundaries with the forestry service and securing funding to develop Ranomafana National Park, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site that encompasses the home of 12 lemur species, some of which are listed among the world’s most endangered animals.
During the past 20 years, awareness of Madagascar’s ecosystem has flourished through her research and outreach efforts and Wright’s long-term relationship with the local communities has catalyzed economic opportunities around the park. Tourist visits to the park have increased from zero to more than 30,000 in 2010, and half the park entrance fees have always been returned to the villages for conservation projects. Recently she has spearheaded Centre ValBio, a modern hub for multidisciplinary research, training, and public awareness, the first in Madagascar.
Carl Safina, known as the “voice of ocean conservation,” is an accomplished author and scientist who has been sounding the alarm for the preservation of marine animals and the oceans that house them. In 2003 he founded Blue Ocean Institute to bring science, art, and literature together to inspire a closer bond with nature, especially the sea. One of the best-known and respected scientists in the world, Safina was a finalist for the Indianapolis Prize in 2010 and a three-time nominee, 2008, 2010, and 2012. Safina is an adjunct full professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and a visiting professor in Stony Brook’s Center for Communicating Science.
In 2011 Safina published two books: The View from Lazy Point; A Natural Year in an Unnatural World, which explores the relationship between nature and human dignity, and A Sea in Flames, which explores the decisions and lessons from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil blowout. Also in 2011 two episodes of his show Saving the Ocean with Carl Safina aired nationwide on PBS. Safina has led campaigns to ban high-seas driftnets; rewritten and overhauled U.S. federal fisheries law; applied international agreements to help restore depleted populations of tunas, swordfish, and sharks; and helped achieve passage of a United Nations global fisheries treaty.
Russell A. Mittermeier, President of Conservation International, is a legendary figure in conservation. He has been nominated for his efforts to understand and educate others about the worldwide threats to biodiversity, global efforts to conserve primates, and work to create new protected areas in some of the world’s highest priority hotspots. He was previously nominated for this award in 2008. Mittermeier is an adjunct professor in the Department of Anatomical Sciences at Stony Brook.
One of the first academic primatologists focused on the conservation of primates, Mittermeier developed numerous industry-changing concepts such as Megadiversity Countries and High Biodiversity Wilderness Areas and has been the principal proponent of the Biodiversity Hotspots (created by British ecologist Norman Myers in 1988) for the past 20 years. The Hotspots concept is particularly important in that it focuses on the world’s highest priority areas for biodiversity conservation with very high levels of endemic species found nowhere else and under extreme threat. It has been estimated that a billion dollars or more has been invested in these areas as a result of the Hotspots concept.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Mittermeier was instrumental in putting the Atlantic forest region of Brazil, one of the world’s highest priority hotspots, on the global conservation agenda, using the lion tamarins (very small monkeys) and muriquis (wooly spider monkeys) as flagship species, and he has been a major proponent for conservation in Madagascar for the past quarter century, using the unique lemur fauna of that country as a symbol. In addition he has focused much attention on the Guiana Shield region of South America, especially the “borderlands” between Suriname, Guyana, French Guiana, and extreme northern Brazilian Amazonia, the most pristine rain forest on Earth, and has helped to create millions of hectares of new parks and reserves.
The work of all the Indianapolis Prize nominees spans the globe, representing a range of species and locales. The nominating committee will review the applications and select six finalists who will be announced in spring 2012. The prize jury will then determine the winner, who will be announced in mid-2012 and honored at the next Indianapolis Prize Gala on September 29, 2012.
In addition to receiving the $100,000 prize, the recipient is also awarded the Lilly Medal, an original work of art that signifies the winner’s contributions to conserving some of the world’s most threatened animals. The 2010 Indianapolis Prize was awarded to legendary elephant advocate Iain Douglas-Hamilton. His accomplishments span decades and continents, bringing global attention to the issue of blood ivory and inspiring others to join the battle against poachers and traders.
“Douglas-Hamilton has set a high bar, but the current nominees are remarkable,” said Michael Crowther, President and CEO of the Indianapolis Zoo, the organization responsible for initiating the conservation award. “Each conservationist has his or her own unique story and has made significant contributions toward the preservation and awareness of Earth’s precious wildlife.”