Mark Plotkin helps Amazon tribes preserve the rain forest and traditional medicine.
Author Sharon Mcdonnell Photography David Deal
WHO • MARK PLOTKIN, 55
MISSION • To save the Amazon rain forest by teaching native tribes how to map, manage and protect it while spreading ancient wisdom about the healing powers of local plant species. A Harvard- and Yale-trained ethnobotanist, Plotkin cofounded the Amazon Conservation Team (ACT) with Costa Rican conservationist Liliana Madrigal in 1996. Since then, more than 75 million acres of Amazon rain forest have been mapped by almost 30 tribes using GPS technology. The ACT has helped establish a 22,000-acre medicinal plant sanctuary called Orito IngiAnde, as well as the 168,000-acre Alto Fragua Indi Wasi National Park, both in Colombia. Other projects include a Shamans and Apprentices program as well as the first certified indigenous park ranger training course in the northeast Amazon. Native lands comprise about one-fourth of the Amazon basin, and native tribes know best how to preserve biodiversity in the rain forest. Saving the land means sustaining the culture, says Plotkin, whose nonprofit’s “biocultural conservation” efforts won The Skoll Foundation’s Award for Social Entrepreneurship in 2008.
MOTIVATION • “I had the great good fortune, as a college dropout working at Harvard, to take a night course about the botany and chemistry of hallucinogenic plants. One lecture by Dr. Richard Schultes, widely hailed as the father of ethnobotany, and I was hooked on plants, indigenous cultures and the Amazon.”
BREAKING A SWEAT • “People often ask how I can deal with the heat and mosquitoes in some South American countries. I remind them I grew up in New Orleans.”
For more information, visit www.amazonteam.org.