Dr. Russell A. Mittermeier and Dr. Thor Hanson

As President of Conservation International since 1989, Dr. Russell A. Mittermeier is the only active field biologist to head an international conservation organization. Named a “hero for the planet” and a “new eco hero” by two international magazines, Mittermeier is regarded as a world leader in the field of tropical forest conservation. Trained as a primatologist and herpetologist, he has traveled widely in 100 countries, and conducted field work in more than 20 – with much of his field work having focused on Amazonia (particularly Brazil and Suriname), the Atlantic forest region of Brazil, and Madagascar.

The scope of his activities is hardly limited to CI. Since 1977, Mittermeier has served as chairman of the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group. He has been an Adjunct Professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook since 1978 and President of the Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation since 1996. Since 2001, he has served as Special Envoy for Great Apes with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and was elected in 2004 as IUCN’s Regional Councilor for North America and the Caribbean.

Mittermeier has been called the true leader of the conservation movement in both Suriname and Guyana. His vision for conservation in the Guianas – conserving over 100 million hectares of pristine forest from Venezuela across Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana and Northern Brazil has been widely praised. Having worked in the region for over 30 years, he has been able to win allies among heads of state as well as community members, and has won a place for biodiversity conservation in government and community decision-making.

Among the many honors he has received are the San Diego Zoological Society’s Gold Medal (1988), the Order of the Golden Ark of The Netherlands (1995), the Cincinnati Zoo Wildlife Conservation Award (1997), the Brazilian Muriqui ABD Prize (1997), Grand Sash and Order of the Yellow Star, Republic of Suriname (1998), the Order of the Southern Cross of the Brazilian Government (1998), the Aldo Leopold Award from the American Society of Mammalogists (2004), an Honorary Doctorate of Science from SUNY-Stony Brook (2007) and Sigma Xi’s John P. McGovern Science and Society Award (2007).

The only child of German immigrants, raised in New York City, Mittermeier had a simple, direct answer when his first grade teacher asked him what he wanted to be: “Jungle explorer.” An early devotee of the books of Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs, Mittermeier was later dubbed “Russell of the Apes” by Newsday Magazine on Long Island, where he grew up.

At Dartmouth College, Mittermeier discovered that the biology courses were geared to pre-med students, so he shifted to the Department of Anthropology where he was able to focus on primate behavior and ecology. He graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Dartmouth in 1971 and went on to Harvard University for a doctorate in biological anthropology (1977).

His doctoral thesis was an 816-page study of the distribution and conservation of the monkeys of Suriname. At age 24, he rediscovered an “extinct” Peruvian monkey species.

In addition to English, Mittermeier is fluent in German, Portuguese, Spanish, French and Sranan Tongo, the Creole language of Suriname.

By the time he graduated from Harvard, Dr. Mittermeier had published nearly 50 papers. His prolific output now encompasses more than 400 scientific and popular articles and 15 books, including the trilogy Megadiversity, Hotspots and Wilderness, and, most recently, Wildlife Spectacles, Hotspots Revisited, Transboundary Conservation, Lemurs of Madagascar, Panatal: South America’s Wetland Jewel, and The Human Footprint.

Mittermeier has lectured extensively throughout the world, served on the editorial boards of a number of professional publications and has appeared regularly on television and radio broadcasts. He is actively involved in the leadership and research initiatives at CI and his fund-raising efforts consume many hours and hours spent traveling. Finally, his mentoring of students and budding conservationists extends well beyond his teaching and university obligations.


Dr. Thor Hanson is a conservation biologist and award-winning writer from the Pacific Northwest. His research and conservation work have taken him to countries around the world, including Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Australia, and Costa Rica. His book, The Impenetrable Forest, was published by 1500 Books in 2008, and he has published articles in scientific journals and periodicals ranging from BioScience and Conservation Biology to The Los Angeles Times. He lives with his wife on an island in Washington State.