Rainforest Conservation, Climate Change, and the Search for New Jungle Medicines


SALISBURY -- World-renowned environmental activist and ethnobotanist Dr. Mark Plotkin will outline the precarious situation of the world's rainforests Thursday, Nov. 29 at the Center for the Environment facility on Catawba College's campus. 

Plotkin is the co-founder and president of the Amazon Conservation Team, an organization that has partnered with more than 50 Amazonian tribes to map and improve protection of the Amazon rainforest. His presentation, "Rainforest Conservation, Climate Change, and the Search for New Jungle Medicines" details successful efforts to protect the Amazon's unique inhabitants from the threat of deforestation. 

Rainforests face an uncertain future. These singular ecosystems, and their countless species of precious plants and animals, face rapid extinction as the forests are cut down at alarming rates. Tribal rainforest cultures are also disappearing -- often faster than the forests themselves. These cultures are intimately twined with the forests' inhabitants, knowing both the lay of the land and the medical potential of local plants and animals far better than outsiders. 

Destruction of the world's rainforests are also closely tied to climate change, as deforestation is the second major source of greenhouse gases. For Plotkin and other environmentalists, protection of the Amazon means slowing the pace of climate change, as well as preserving priceless knowledge and habitats. 

The Amazon Conservation Team, which Plotkin co-founded in 1996 with his wife, Liliana Madrigal, has more than 20 years of success in protecting the biological and cultural diversity of the Amazon. The non-profit organization has been a member of the United Nations Environment Programme Global 500 Roll of Honour since 2002, and has been recognized as using “Best Practices Using Indigenous Knowledge” by UNESCO, the United Nation’s cultural organization.

Plotkin received his undergraduate degree from Harvard, a masters in forestry from Yale and his doctorate from Tufts University. He is now a renowned scientist who has studied indigenous plant use with traditional healers of Central and South America for much of the past 30 years. A considerable amount of his work and research was the Trio Indians of southern Suriname, a small rainforest country in northeastern South America, but he has also worked with traditional healers and communities as far north as Mexico and all the way down to Brazil.

Plotkin has served as research associate in Ethnobotanical Conservation at the Botanical Museum of Harvard University, director of plant conservation at the World Wildlife Fund, vice president of Conservation International and as a research associate at the Smithsonian Institution's Department of Botany. In 1999, Time Magazine hailed Plotkin as an environmental “Hero for the Planet." 

Plotkin is the author of numerous books and scientific publications, including "Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice," which is currently in its fortieth printing and has seen success in overseas publications. Acclaimed filmmaker Miranda Smith produced a documentary related to the book, also titled "The Shaman's Apprentice," which has earned awards at eighteen different film festivals.

Plotkin's most recent book, "The Killers Within: The Deadly Rise of Drug-Resistant Bacteria," was published by Little, Brown in 2002 and was hailed as “One of the top ten science books of the year” by Discover magazine. 

In 1998, Plotkin played a leading role in the Academy Award-nominated IMAX film "Amazon." He also appears in the new award-winning documentary, “Living in the Future’s Past,” which features Jeff Bridges. Bridges also serves on the Amazon Conservation Team's advisory board.

Plotkin’s work has been featured in a PBS Nova documentary, in an Emmy-winning Fox TV documentary, on the NBC Nightly News and Today Show, CBS’ 48 Hours and in Life, Newsweek, Smithsonian, Elle, People and The New York Times. He has also made appearances on NPR. 

During his years as an activist, Plotkin has received numerous awards including: The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens Conservation Award, the Skoll Foundation’s prestigious Award for Social Entrepreneurship, an honorary doctor of humane letters from Lewis and Clark College, an award for International Conservation Leadership presented by Jane Goodall and been named one of Smithsonian Magazine's "35 who made a difference." 

He has also delivered a TED Talk on the protection of the Amazon's uncontacted tribes, which has attracted well over a million views on TED's website.  You can see the talk at: https://www.ted.com/talks/mark_plotkin_what_the_people_of_the_amazon_know_that_you_don_t?language=en

Plotkin's presentation is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in Room 300. It is free and open to the public but reservations are required.


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