Parker/Gentry Award given to missionary turned biologist, José “Pepe” Alvarez
For Immediate Release
Contact: Field Museum PR Department
(312) 665-7100, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Parker/Gentry Award was established in 1996 by an anonymous donor. It honors an outstanding individual, team or organization in the field of conservation biology whose efforts have had a significant impact on preserving the world’s rich natural heritage–and whose actions and approach can serve as a model to others.
The Award bears the names of the late Gentry and Theodore A. Parker III, both ardent conservationists and leading naturalists. Parker, an ornithologist, and Gentry, a botanist, died on August 3, 1991, while surveying hill forests in western Ecuador. The pair worked closely with Field Museum scientists on several joint efforts, including rapid inventories for conservation.
“I was a great admirer of Ted Parker and Al Gentry, so it’s a real honor for me to receive this award,” Alvarez said. “During the past 15 years, I have had extensive trouble with, even threats from, illegal loggers, miners and other forces devastating the Amazon. This award is important because it will help attract attention to the Amazon’s conservation problems and priorities. I hope it will help the Amazon and its people.”
The award will be granted during a private ceremony at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, September 28, 2006, at The Field Museum. Journalists are welcome to attend, but must register in advance.
Much of Alvarez’s work has focused on the white-sand forests of Peru, a nutrient-poor type of ecosystem that some scientists consider the most fragile forest type in the Amazon. The Allpahuayo-Mishana Reserve includes fragments of white-sand forests, and it is in those fragments where Alvarez first heard, then found, all of the new species of birds he discovered and described with his colleague, Bret Whitney, an ornithologist and research associate at Louisiana State University. The two of them have worked together on all the discoveries of new species mentioned here, as well as on other projects. While Alvarez does most of the field work, Whitney does most of the lab work.
Alvarez has an uncanny ability to identify birds by the sounds they make. Although he will continue to try to identify new birds in the course of his work, Alvarez has shifted his focus a bit from science to projects that manage biodiversity with the involvement of local communities.
“Pepe’s work is remarkable for many reasons,” said Thomas Schulenberg, an ornithologist and conservation ecologist at The Field Museum. “First, no one would have expected to find so many new species of birds so close to a city as large as Iquitos. He’s also shown that two very different types of rain forest can grow side-by-side in Peru. Finally, Pepe has been a tireless advocate for conservation, even in the face of direct threats to his personal safety.”
The threats to biodiversity in the Amazon are growing every day, as is the poverty of the people that live in and from the Amazon forest, according to Alvarez.
“The Amazon holds one-fifth of the world’s fresh water (not frozen), as well as millions of species, many of which remain undiscovered by science,” he said. “All of this could disappear in the next few decades if we don’t help to preserve the Amazon."
“The Amazon is the responsibility of the entire World.”