Jeju, South Korea – Conservation International’s long time President, Dr. Russell Mittermeier, a world-renowned primatologist, herpetologist and conservationist, was granted Honorary Membership today by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the world’s largest international environmental organization. The award was presented at the World Conservation Congress taking place this week in South Korea, on the recommendation of the IUCN Council to individuals who have made exceptional contributions to conservation.
“Russ Mittermeier is an innovative, proactive and scientifically informed conservationist,” declared IUCN on its website. “A renowned primatologist and herpetologist, he has undertaken extensive field work and made major contributions to the conservation of the fauna of Madagascar, the fauna of South America (especially in Brazil and the Guianas), primates in general, and freshwater turtles worldwide.”
Joining Mittermeier in receiving this year’s prestigious recognition from the IUCN are ten other “conservation greats”, including United Nations Environment Programme Executive Director Achim Steiner, Brazilian environmentalist and politician Dr. Marina Silva, and Botswana President, His Excellency Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama, who additionally serves on Conservation International’s Board of Directors. The IUCN has been granting Honorary Membership since it was founded in 1948 to recognize outstanding services to the conservation of nature and natural resources.
Expressing heart-felt gratitude to his conservation colleagues for what he described as a great honor, Dr. Mittermeier said, “I have worn many hats in my career, but by far and away the most enduring and meaningful for me has been my relationship with IUCN going back to 1974, when I wrote some of the first data sheets for South American primates. To be in the company of these fellow conservation greats is very humbling.”
As a child, Mittermeier says he was inspired by the Tarzan books from Edgar Rice Burroughs, which this year turn 100 and sparked his imagination with tales of tropical forests and amazing primates. A leading primate specialist today, Mittermeier began his career with the IUCN in 1974, when he became a member of its Species Survival Commission (SSC). He has also served as Chair of the SCC Primate Specialist Group since 1977 as well as member of the SSC Steering Committee since 1984, Regional Councilor for North America and the Caribbean since 2004, and Vice President of IUCN since 2009. In 2008, Mittermeier won the IUCN Sir Peter Scott Award for Conservation Merit.
IUCN described Mittermeier as having “brought to the Union his strong institutional organizational skills, charismatic leadership, and scientific integrity.”
The discovery and description of species new to science is one particular area of interest for Mittermeier, who has described 12 new species in his career so far, (three turtles, three lemurs, and six Amazonian monkeys) and has seven species named in his honor (three frogs, a lizard, two lemurs, and an ant).
“Species conservation is really my passion”, said Mittermeier, “I hope I’ve been able to contribute a little to preventing extinctions and to maintaining our planet’s wonderful biodiversity, upon which we all depend in one way or another.”
President of CI since 1989 and a former scientist with the World Wildlife Fund, Mittermeier is the only active field biologist to head a major international conservation organization. He was named a “Hero for the Planet” by TIME Magazine in 1999 and is regarded as a world leader in biodiversity and tropical forest conservation who has traveled widely in more than 150 countries on seven continents, and conducted field work in more than 20. During his illustrious career, Mittermeier has authored more than 650 papers and 23 books, and co-edited Conservation International’s Tropical Field Guide and pocket guide series.
A tireless communicator of conservation priorities, Mittermeier has also been a vocal champion for the concept of Biodiversity Hotspots for the past twenty years, and a pioneer of Megadiversity Countries and High Biodiversity Wilderness Areas to help explain the relative importance and value of targeted conservation action. In recent years, he has helped to promote the concept of “avoided deforestation” as essential to combat global climate change (REDD+ – Reduction in Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation), and particularly the very significant role of the High Forest Cover Low Deforestation Rate (HFLD) countries such as Suriname and Guyana.
CI co-founder and Chief Executive Peter Seligmann offered congratulations to Mittermeier, saying, “What Russ has given to Conservation International and to the broader environmental movement over the years has been immeasurable. He is that rare combination of visionary and technician, communicator and scientist, who embodies our approach to pragmatic-but-ambitious conservation with his head in the sky and his feet in the mud. I am so pleased that our colleagues with the IUCN have granted him, as well as our distinguished Board Member, His Excellency the President of Botswana, this well-deserved honor.”
Khama, who joined the CI Board of Directors in 1999, co-hosted the inaugural Summit for Sustainability in Africa with CI earlier this year to convene Heads of State from ten African nations and development partners in charting a course toward healthy sustainable economies. That meeting resulted in the Gaborone Declaration, and motivated further international support at Rio+20.
About the IUCN recognition, which noted the President’s “life-long commitment to the environment”, Seligmann added, “Ian Khama is unique among world leaders, in his advanced understanding of and appreciation for the role of healthy ecosystems in enabling economic and human development. It is because of his inspiring commitment, trail-blazing leadership, and regional influence that African nations are among the most forward-thinking in accounting for the benefits of natural capital in their national growth strategies. He, too, is imminently deserving of this recognition as a conservation champion.”
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About Conservation International (CI) - Building upon a strong foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration, CI empowers societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature, our global biodiversity, for the long term well-being of people. Founded in 1987 and marking its 25th anniversary in 2012, CI has headquarters in the Washington DC area, and 900 employees working in nearly 30 countries on four continents, plus 1,000+ partners around the world. For more information, please visit at www.conservation.org
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