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WCS Scientists Finalist for Esteemed Conservation Award

09 February 2016 | Wildlife Conservation Society News Release

(NEW YORK) WCS is pleased to announce that two of its scientists, Dr. Joel Berger and Dr. P. Dee Boersma, have advanced as finalists for the 2016 Indianapolis Prize. This announcement was made by Indianapolis Prize officials today as the six finalists for the world’s leading award for animal conservation were revealed. In recognition of their success in the conservation of at-risk species, Berger and Boersma join fellow finalists Dr. Rodney Jackson, Professor Carl Jones, Dr. Carl Safina and Dr. Amanda Vincent.

“Joel, Dee and the other finalists for the Indianapolis Prize are heroes in many senses of the word,” said Michael Crowther, president and CEO of the Indianapolis Zoological Society, which administers the Indianapolis Prize as part of its core mission. “They’ve sacrificed their own self-interests to help others, and they’ve overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Our world is unquestionably better off because of Drs. Berger and Boersma, and we hope others will not only take notice of, but join in their noble work to save wild things and wild places.”

“We are proud of both of these extraordinary scientists and congratulate all the nominees,” said John Robinson, executive vice president of conservation and science at WCS.“Being nominated for the Indianapolis Prize is a remarkable achievement in itself and speaks to a level of commitment and drive that is uncommon in any profession. These are the best of the best. and we are lucky they share our passion for the planet, its people and its wildlife.”

Joel Berger

Dr. Berger is a Senior Scientist with WCS and the Barbara Cox Anthony University Chair in Wildlife Conservation with the Warner College of Natural Resources at Colorado State University. After completing his Ph.D. at the University of Colorado in Boulder, he spent seven years with the Smithsonian Institution, and has since been involved with conservation education for national and international students across diverse geographies.

In the Arctic and Tibetan Plateau, global warming advances nearly twice as fast as the rest of the world, and land animals – particularly muskoxen and wild yaks – are the first to feel the effects. Much like the polar bear, these species are modern metaphors for climate change. Dr. Berger faces sub-zero temperatures and travels across hundreds of miles of Arctic and alpine tundra to understand how populations of these species are being impacted, and what we can do about it. His work, geared toward applying science to policy and practice, is why Dr. Berger has advanced as a finalist for the 2016 Indianapolis Prize.

Dr. Berger’s myriad conservation accomplishments include a lead role in the creation of America’s first federally-sanctioned wildlife migration corridor, the Path of the Pronghorn, in and south of Wyoming’s Teton Basin Ecosystem. He achieved this victory by working with key stakeholders, including ranchers, oil and gas companies, government officials and agencies, and his perseverance stands as testament to the feasibility of protecting landscapes for migrating wildlife.

Focusing on large mammal species worldwide, his work took him to Namibia and Zimbabwe in the early 1990s, bringing attention to the consequences of dehorning black and white rhinos and prompting the African nations to reevaluate the conservation tactic.

On the opposite side of the world, Dr. Berger also leads teams to conserve Mongolia’s endangered saiga antelope populations and analyzes the harmful effects of the cashmere trade on endangered wildlife icons of central Asia, including high-altitude wildlife like snow leopards.

What’s more, Dr. Berger’s dedication to conservation under difficult physical conditions is nothing short of legendary. He, his wife, and 19-month-old daughter traveled to Africa, essentially living inside a Land Rover for three years. He camped at -24 degrees Fahrenheit to study species in Tibet. For his work on how muskoxen interact with their predators, polar and grizzly bears, Dr. Berger snowmobiled some 1,500 kilometers across the Arctic tundra in Russia and Alaska.

“Joel is the living embodiment of passion for protecting wildlife and wild places,” said Robinson. “The extremes he will go to in studying wildlife in the remote corners of the globe are unparalleled and would be beyond consideration for most. When back from the field , whether in a meeting room, a lecture hall, or a classroom, people want to hear what Joel has to say — they are engaged and motivated by his work, his enthusiasm and his level of commitment.”

Dee Boersma

Dr. P. Dee Boersma is a conservation fellow for WCS and a conservation biologist and professor at the University of Washington, where she is Wadsworth Endowed Chair in Conservation Science. She also serves as director of the Center for Penguins as Ocean Sentinels. She received her Ph.D. from The Ohio State University in zoology and undergraduate degree from Central Michigan University.

Penguins, as sentinels of our oceans, have no greater champion than Dr. Boersma. Considered the world’s foremost expert on penguins, she’s overcome struggles against corporations, governments and the status quo to ensure that these charismatic seabirds thrive and flourish. Her dedication to penguins is why Dr. Boersma has advanced as a Finalist for the 2016 Indianapolis Prize.

Best known for her work with a colony of Magellanic penguins around Punta Tombo, Argentina, Dr. Boersma brings a relentless spirit to situations in which others might have abandoned hope. In 1982, a Japanese company announced an initiative that would effectively slaughter the colony for their oil, protein and leather. Not only did Dr. Boersma and her team stonewall the initiative, but in 1997, her efforts resulted in Argentine oil tanker lines being moved 40 kilometers away from the Patagonia coast – a huge victory for penguins, since oil pollution in the region once killed more than 40,000 penguins each year.

The work did not stop there. In 2007, Dr. Boersma prevented the building of a cement trail through a part of the colony where nearly 200 nests had eggs ready to hatch, and in December 2015, the Province of Chubut approved a marine protected area (MPA) along the coast that includes the waters Punta Tombo, a move that will considerably strengthen protections for the colony and its conservation.

“Dee has dedicated her heart and soul to the study and protection of one of nature’s great wildlife spectacles—the nesting colonies of Magellanic penguins in coastal Patagonia,” said Robinson. “Her research spans decades and will help wildlife managers conserve penguins and other wildlife against human development, climate change, and other threats.”

Renowned professional conservationists and designated representatives make up the Indianapolis Prize Jury, tasked with naming the 2016 Winner, who will be announced in late spring and honored at the Indianapolis Prize Gala presented by Cummins Inc., to be held Oct. 15, 2016. The Winner of the Prize will receive an unrestricted $250,000 cash award while the five Finalists will each receive $10,000. In addition to the monetary award, the Winner will receive the prestigious Lilly Medal, a cast bronze medal showcasing the relationship between humans and the natural world.

A History of Indianapolis Prize Winners

The Indianapolis Prize was first awarded in 2006 to George Archibald, Ph.D., the co-founder of the International Crane Foundation. The 2008 Winner was George Schaller, Ph.D., known as one of the founding fathers of modern wildlife conservation, and both a senior conservationist for the Wildlife Conservation Society and vice president for Panthera. In 2010, Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Ph.D., founder of Save the Elephants, received the Prize for his pioneering research in elephant social behavior and for leading the way in the fight against the poaching of African elephants. Steven Amstrup, Ph.D., chief scientist for Polar Bears International, received the 2012 Prize for his work promoting the cause of the world’s largest land carnivore. In 2014, Patricia C. Wright, Ph.D., founder of Centre ValBio, became the first woman awarded the Indianapolis Prize for her dedication to protecting Madagascar’s lemurs.

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