The Intersection

posted by Sheril R. Kirshenbaum

Around the corner from my lab at Duke is a bright sun room – which also happens to be the office of the Extraordinary Professor Stuart Pimm. Now mind you, I don’t use Extraordinary loosely, it’s quite literally his title at the Conservation Ecology Research Unit in South Africa where he’s also a professor at the University of Pretoria.

i-4fe225f201becdaf2a24d6b16865e854-spimm.jpgI knew I liked Stuart from the moment I entered his office. While I had read many of his books and scientific papers, it’s always upon encountering someone firsthand that you’re able to get a sense of who they are. Walking in, I felt as if I’d entered the tropics – everything is green with life. Once I settled into the forest, I began to take note of the many interesting sorts of things he’s collected during his travels.. masks, artwork, baskets from around the globe, and so many books – some he’s authored with titles in other languages like Terras da Terra (Brazillian Portuguese for Lands of the Earth). Stuart showed me his very favorite photograph in which only the top of his safety helmet is visible in a small zodiac boat aside a very large blue whale. It’s hard to describe the feeling of entering this unusual space in an otherwise humdrum wing of the Levine Science Research Center on campus, except that it’s easy to imagine you’ve left Durham altogether by glimpsing into to the world of Pimm.

On the wall is a world map highlighting the places where species are considered to be in trouble – for the most part because of us. You see, Stuart is interested in extinctions and what can be done to prevent them. From elephants to jaguars, birds to antelope, his current research involves hotspots in the Florida Everglades, Brazil, southern Africa, Central America, and Madagascar. Now of course, there are many amazing scientists at Duke, so what makes Stuart so unique? Well, research aside, he succeeds in bringing critical issues to the attention of policymakers and the public in an engaging way. He understands people as well as ecosystems, and this has earned him respect across the great scientific and political divide.

And now the Extraordinary Professor has invited us all along on his next adventure in the Land Rover as we travel from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth, South Africa. He’s to deliver the Plenary address at the 2007 Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) conference where I will also be giving a talk on Marine Ecosystem Based Management (EBM). [Check back for more on EBM tomorrow.]

Although it would be unfair to compare this intrepid scientist to anyone, for those who are not familiar with the field, I think it’s appropriate to suggest he’s the Indiana Jones of Conservation Biology. And when Indy invites you along on the expedition, do you really need time to think it over? Questions from readers on everything from diversity to conservation encouraged. I’ll be checking in as possible from the field and Chris will help me post a sort of travel diary over the coming weeks. Hope you’ll join us for adventures in that other hemisphere..


  1. #1 Chris Mooney
    June 21, 2007

    I interviewed Pimm for the first book. Found him very engaging and quotable, and quote him I did, in my endangered species chapter.

    Folks, Sheril and I are in essence swapping road trips over the next month/month and a half: She goes to South Africa and writes from there when she can; then about when she comes back, I go on book tour for Storm World and write when I can.

    Um, guess whose itinerant posts are likely gonna be more colorful? I have my work cut out for me….

  2. #2 Hypatia
    June 21, 2007

    Sheril (and Chris),
    I knew exactly whom this post was about when I saw the title. Wait ’til you hear him speak; he is magnificent. I was fortunate enough to snare him for a state conference in Florida back in 2001, spent a bit of time with him, and shared a bit of wild Florida too. I am overcome with envy of your great opportunity to spend time with him in Africa. How much you will learn!
    Tell him Judith sez “Go well.”

  3. #3 Art
    June 21, 2007

    Wishing you a wonderful and enlightening trip. Look forward to colorful stories of the wild that should soon appear.

  4. #4 Linda
    June 21, 2007

    Can’t wait to read about your exciting adventures as you travel with Professor Pimm. Safe trip and much success at the SCB Conference.

  5. #5 matthew
    June 21, 2007

    I’m a big fan. In fact, I’ve been trying for a while now to get an assistantship at Duke and Dr. Pimm would be my A#1 choice… it’s wishful thinking on my part, but I can still dream.

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