PROFILE: Amy Vedder

Part of the Biodiversity Crisis Curriculum Collection.

Amy Vedder with binoculars in Rwanda. Photo © Wildlife Conservation Society headquartered at the Bronx Zoo.

As Director of the Living Landscapes Program for the Wildlife Conservation Society, Dr. Amy Vedder spends several months of the year traveling to Africa, Latin America, and other places developing projects to benefit animals, plants, and people. Vedder was first exposed to the wealth of biological diversity in Africa—and to the economic difficulties facing rural Africans—as a Peace Corps volunteer more than two decades ago. Several years later, she and her husband established the Mountain Gorilla Project in the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda. Today, tourists bring money into the community when they visit the gorillas, supporting the people more sustainably than when they hunted these great apes and turned forest into farmland. After returning to the U.S., she directed the Africa Program of the WCS for six years, and is now working in a program with a more global focus.

Vedder looks at the big picture, promoting both the protection of the wildest places and the careful management of ecological buffers—such as grazed areas of the African savanna that are crucial to the survival of wildlife, but can benefit local people at the same time. In many projects, she has discovered that, like us, indigenous people do not always know and appreciate the natural resources in their community. Economic improvement is critical for people who have a hard time feeding their family; nevertheless, Vedder says, “We should not cut short our expectations that people will recognize other benefits of protecting species—benefits that enhance spiritual, aesthetic, or ethical aspects of our lives.”

This is an excerpt from THE BIODIVERSITY CRISIS: LOSING WHAT COUNTS, edited by Michael J. Novacek, a publication of the New Press. © 2000 American Museum of Natural History. To order the book, call 1-800-233-4830.