“The greatest and most endangered species in the Amazon rainforest is not the jaguar or the harpy eagle,” Mark Plotkin once said in a widely watched TED talk. “It’s the isolated and uncontacted tribes.”
Most of the Amazon’s some 400 Indigenous groups have made contact with the outside world over the course of the past five centuries, but a rare few remain off the map, living in almost incomprehensible harmony with the rainforest. Yet the expansion of human activity in the Amazon puts these peoples at risk of annihilation, threatening not only their survival but also their wisdom, mysticism, languages, and unparalleled knowledge of the forest’s species and cycles.
As the rainforest shrinks, can its voluntarily isolated peoples somehow stay protected? In this GLF Live, renowned ethnobotanist Mark J. Plotkin took us into his 30-year career of experiences living with Amazonian communities and studying their traditional plant uses to unravel this question and look at what the future could hold for some of the most ancient cultures on Earth.
Listen back to the conversation as a podcast, or re-watch it on YouTube:
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Dr. Mark J. Plotkin is president and board member of Amazon Conservation Team (ACT). He has led ACT and guided its vision since 1996, when he co-founded the organization with his fellow conservationist, Liliana Madrigal. Dr. Plotkin has previously 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 research associate at the Department of Botany of the Smithsonian Institution.
Among his many influential writings, Dr. Plotkin may be best known for his popular work “Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice” (1994), which has been printed continuously and has been published in multiple languages. He played a leading role in the Academy Award-nominated IMAX film “Amazon.” Dr. 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, The New York Times, along with appearances on National Public Radio. Time magazine called him an “Environmental Hero for the Planet” (2001) and Smithsonian magazine hailed him as one of “35 Who Made a Difference” (2005), along with Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg, and fellow New Orleanian Wynton Marsalis.