To the Gentleman of Biodiversity: Tom Lovejoy

Golden Lion Tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia) endangered species, Atlantic Forest, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

I woke up to the sad news of the passing of American conservation biologist Tom Lovejoy. Tom was not only a scholar but a gentleman. He died at the age of 80 on Christmas Day. 

Photo © National Geographic

For years, he brought attention to tropical deforestation through his nonprofit Amazon Biodiversity Center. 

I had the honor to photograph him many times during events at Yale University, but it was no until we sailed together in Patagonia with National Geographic-Lindblad Expeditions, that we became friends. 

He turned into a non-formal mentor, always helping me along the way.  There was not a single time, he did not answer my emails in minutes. 

I always looked to him, with the respect he deserved. What else would you profess to the person who coined the term `biological diversity, a great expert in the field of conservation? But it was not his knowledge, but his generosity and kindness that sealed our friendship.  Well aware of my lack of formal education in the sciences, he took me under his supportive wings, writing the foreword of my book Drones for Conservation or more recently, introducing me to the New York Botanical Garden Curator Emeritus, Brian Boom, to push forward The Adventures of Pili project.

A month ago was the last time we emailed each other: 

¨How are you, Tom,¨ I asked.

¨I guess I would rate myself at 70%,¨ he replied.

¨YouTube interview, ok. But let Carmen schedule it so I don’t run myself down.¨

We were planning an interview for my YouTube series Reflections with an Accent. I wish I had moved quicker. 

National Geographic Explorer in Residence Enric Sala, recently described Tom as a giant in the world of Ecology and Conservation, mentioning him as a wonderful mentor, extremely generous with his students, colleagues, and friends. And I could not agree more. 

What I have not to doubt is that in this particular moment, there are hundreds of conservationists and nature lovers around the world who are deeply saddened by his passing. 

I expressed my gratitude to him on many occasions, but I will once again. Thank You for your kindness, Tom. You inspired many of us, and you certainly made this world, a better place.