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Tom Lovejoy on Endangered Species


10 July 2014 | Interview by Craig Kasnoff

Conservation biologist Tom Lovejoy surrounded by the rainforest of Brazil


Tom Lovejoy has spent most of his life working on conservation issues and trying to save the rainforests.

He was Assistant Secretary and Counselor to the Secretary at the Smithsonian Institution, Science Advisor to the Secretary of the Interior, and Executive Vice President of the World Wildlife Fund–U.S. He conceived the idea for the Minimum Critical Size of Ecosystems project (a joint project between the Smithsonian and Brazil’s INPA), originated the concept of debt-for-nature swaps and is the founder of the public television series Nature. Lovejoy says there are positive signs for species facing extinction, but not enough of them.

EEJ: How do you see the ‘big’ picture of the endangered species issue? Is the situation getting worse? Is it getting better? Is it under control? Or out of control? Is there any reason for optimism?

LOVEJOY: It is clearly getting worse. The growing number of listed and candidates for listing is a clear indication. A lot of additional land use change around gas and oil exploration and extraction is exacerbating the problem. As is climate change. That said there are some success stories of species that have recovered or are on the way to recovery, but they aren’t keeping up with growing endangerment.

EEJ: Can / should all species be saved from extinction? If not, which ones ‘must’ be saved?

LOVEJOY: I believe we should try to save all species. They are all important in practical ways we still only dimly understand. And there is an ethical responsibility to other forms of life. In reality, the way we allocate insufficient resources leads to choices being made about what survives and what does not.

EEJ: What do you see as the ‘leading’ cause of species extinction. Is there one?

LOVEJOY: Habitat destruction, with invasive species and climate change catching up fast.

EEJ: What do you think is the most promising ‘solution’ to saving endangered species from extinction?

LOVEJOY: Developing an ethical framework for our relationship with life on Earth and sensitizing children early to the wonders of nature. We also have to focus on developing and incentivizing much less destructive approaches to pursuit of human aspirations…redefining the quality of life.

Tom Lovejoy settling in for the day at Camp 41 in the rainforest of Brazil

EEJ: What are you, or projects you’re engaged in, doing to help save endangered species from extinction?

LOVEJOY: I have been engaged for decades to conserve the Amazon rainforest and manage it as a system. More recently I am pursuing the idea of planetary scale ecosystem restoration to manage forest, grasslands and agricultural ecosystems to both enhance the future of biodiversity and also reduce climate change by pulling greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere and lowering the amount of potential climate change.

EEJ: How, and why, did you become involved working on endangered species (or related) issues?

LOVEJOY: I became fascinated with biological diversity when I was 14 and that automatically led me to be concerned about conservation.

EEJ: What do you think the ‘everyday’ person can do to help keep endangered species from extinction?

LOVEJOY: Learn more about the problem, educate your family and friends to the sheer wonder of nature. Join a conservation organization and let your elected officials know these are important issues that will affect your vote.

EEJ: Are you hopeful or concerned for the future of species facing extinction?


EEJ: Would you like to add anything?

LOVEJOY: The fuse is very short on these environmental issues And we need to ramp up action to the scale of the problem.

Tom Lovejoy contemplating 40 more years of trying to save the rainforests

You can go here for more information about Tom Lovejoy.

Find organizations saving endangered tigers at Saving Endangered Tigers.

Tigers in Crisis is Produced by Endangered Species Journalist Craig Kasnoff

to Promote the Plight of Endangered Tigers and the Efforts to Save Them.