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The Statesman

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The Statesman

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    Professors strive for Lilly Medal

    Professors Russell Mittermeier and Patricia Wright were named finalists for the Indianapolis prize, the largest grant prize in animal conservation.

    The winner of the Indianapolis Prize receives $100,000 and the Lilly Medal.

    A nominating committee and a jury select the finalist. While there are not any definitive selection rules, panels often look to the significance of the nominees’ achievements in animal conservation, dedication, the professional status of the nominators and more, according to Judy Gagen, a spokeswoman for the Indianapolis Zoo.

    Mittermeier is an adjunct professor of anatomical sciences and the president of Conservation International.

    “Driven by an inexhaustible quest to see and save the last remaining biodiversity hotspots, Russ Mittermeier is a true champion of the natural world,” said Rick Barongi, director of the Houston Zoo, in a press release from the Indianapolis Zoo. “Armed with an astonishing range of knowledge and deep-seated passion, Russ is part of an elite league of wildlife conservationists who dedicate their entire lives to inspiring others to connect and care about nature.”

    In 1972, Mittermeier worked with a task force in Washington D.C. to bring a group of golden lion tamarins from Brazil to the United States.

    He also coined the idea of “primate ecotourism,” inspired by bird-watching. Mittermeier aims to have people watch primates in their natural habitats in South and Central American and Asia.

    Mittermeier holds bachelors and master degrees from Dartmouth College and Harvard University, respectively, in biological anthropology. He realized that he wanted to be a biodiversity conservationist when he was 5 or 6 years old. “Originally, when they asked what I wanted to be when in first grade, I said, ‘Jungle explorer,'” Mittermeier said. “And that was reinforced during my childhood by mother taking me to American Museum of Natural History and the Bronx Zoo … and reading all the Tarzan books.”

    As a biodiversity anthropologist, Mittermeier aspires to not lose any primates to extinction. Every other animal group has lost one or two species to extinction this millenium. The primate group has not.

    Mittermeier cannot remember how many times he has been nominated for the Indianapolis Prize but knows that he has been named a finalist at least twice. Many former winners and nominees are colleagues and close friends of his, and he is honored to be in the same category.

    Patricia Wright is a professor of biological anthropology and the director of the Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments.

    Despite The Statesman’s attempts to reach out to Wright, she was not available for comment. Mittermeier, a colleague, said that he thinks that Wright is currently in Madagascar doing research.

    Wright discovered the golden bamboo lemur in 1986. Upon discerning that timber businessmen were exploiting rain forests natural resources helped to create Ranamofana National Park in Madagascar, which is now regarded as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Twelve different types of lemurs reside in the park

    Wright is considered a leading expert on lemurs and landscape conservation in the scientific community.

    “Madagascar is a place so special, with so many unique species, that it feels like another world. But it is one in the gravest peril, with so many species on the edge of oblivion and one woman stands out its savior—Pat Wright,” said Stuart Pimm, a Doris Duke professor of conservation ccology at Duke University, in a press release from the Indianapolis Zoo. “With her passion, scientific excellence, fund-raising skill and political acumen, Madagascar’s biodiversity has a chance. Everyone who works to conserve that biodiversity has benefitted from her presence.”

    The Indianapolis Zoo will announce the winner of the Indianapolis Prize on Sept. 29 in a ceremony at the J.W. Marriott in Indianapolis.

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