From ‘Tarzan’ to tarsiers: one conservationist’s wild journey

Wallacea Biodiversity Hotspot

Wallacea Biodiversity Hotspot, Indonesia. (© Conservation International/photo by Aulia Erlangga)

He has discovered 18 species new to science. He has eight species — including three frogs, a lizard and a monkey — named after him. He has visited every tropical forest on Earth.

His inspiration? Tarzan.

One of the world’s foremost conservationists, Russ Mittermeier, credits the venerable fictional jungle dweller with helping to launch his celebrated career in protecting nature.

“I am sure that many kids of my generation and others were inspired by Tarzan (including also my two sons),” said Mittermeier, a former president of Conservation International and currently the chief conservation officer for the non-profit Global Wildlife Conservation, in a recent interview. “But I took it really seriously starting at 6 (years old), and planned from very early on to get out into the jungles of the world.” And so he did — and he hasn’t slowed down: As recently as last year, he co-authored a study describing two new species of tarsier, a tiny primate, in Indonesia.

Mittermeier recently spoke to the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund about his childhood inspiration and the concept he is perhaps best known for in the conservation world: “hotspots.”


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Mittermeier is credited with the now-widespread use of biodiversity hotspots — the world’s most biologically rich and also threatened areas on land — for strategic conservation, and the number of areas considered to be biodiversity hotspots has grown from 10 in 1988 to 36 today. By focusing on the most threatened areas of Earth, conservationists can better protect endangered species and ensure irreplaceable ecosystems remain intact.

“There is absolutely no doubt that hotspots are still the best overarching strategy for ensuring that the full range of terrestrial biodiversity is maintained,” he said.

Read the full interview with Mittermeier here.

Olivia DeSmit is a staff writer for Conservation International.

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Further reading


  1. Pingback: From ‘Tarzan’ to tarsiers: one conservationist’s wild journey | Human Nature – Learning from Nature

  2. Pingback: In case you missed it: 4 big stories from our world | Human Nature - Conservation International Blog

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