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Q&A with GWC’s New Primate Conservation Director

Dr. Anthony Rylands began his career studying primates in the Amazon and Atlantic coastal forests of Brazil. Since 1996, he has served as deputy Chair of the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group, and has increasingly focused his work on the objectives of the specialist group—networking, coordinating, and publishing on themes that focus on the conservation of threatened primates worldwide. We chatted with Dr. Rylands about his new role as GWC’s primate conservation director, his passion for conservation, and his love for primates specifically.

Northern Muriqui Monkeys (photo by Carla Possamai)

Q. How did you develop your passion for conservation?
A. I don’t think that a passion for conservation “develops”—it is an empathetic knee-jerk response to the ruination of nature. Wrecked landscapes and disappearing species are inimical to any sense of well-being and harmony in our lives. I have always found Life on Earth fascinating, and its loss and degradation is an unforgivable impoverishment of our lives and of the wealth the Earth has to offer us. We can conceptualize this catastrophic trend as no other animal can, and yet it is disregarded by so many. Never mind the indifference of the greedy, passion is needed to combat complacency and hopelessness. The development side comes from our increasing understanding of the causes and consequences.

“I have an image–that I believe was on a black-and-white and very small television screen–indelibly imprinted on a much, much younger brain of a great gash extending to the horizon in a seemingly endless Amazon rain forest—the TransAmazon highway. It made a very strong impression, and it was fate that led me to begin my career there in 1976, and witness the destruction of the Amazon at first hand—to me, with the pillage and pollution of the world’s oceans, among the greatest crimes of humanity. I have chosen primates as my species, but as a surrogate for rain forest.

Q. What will your primary objective be as GWC’s new primate conservation director?
A. I have a number of concrete tasks that will contribute to primate conservation in this way and that, and all, I believe, are worthwhile endeavors. Perhaps the most complex, challenging  and most enduring contribution will be writing and editing primate field guides. Above all, however, it will be to contribute strongly to GWC’s initiatives to halt the declines of species worldwide, be they primates, be they toucans, tortoises or sea otters, in any way I can.

Q. What do you love about primates in particular?
A. Their diversity, their complex social behavior. They are like little people and you can watch them living their lives.

Q. What is your favorite part of working in conservation?
A. Feeling that I can contribute to our understanding of the world’s biodiversity, and make a difference in saving it.

Q. What is your favorite part of being out in the field?
A. The tranquility and ability to appreciate what we need to fight for.

Q. Do you have a particular favorite moment from doing fieldwork?
A. Sitting quietly, watching primates, the wildlife, and feeling at one with natural environments and their inhabitants.

Q. What is your favorite wildlife species or taxa? Why?
A. Sea Otters—truly the most remarkable and enchanting of all creatures. Marmosets, lion tamarins, muriquis come a close collective second, and golden monkeys a strong third.

About the Author

Lindsay Renick Mayer

Lindsay Renick Mayer

Lindsay is the associate director of communications for Global Wildlife Conservation and has a particular interest in leveraging communications to inspire conservation action. Lindsay is passionate about species-based conservation and finding compelling ways to tell stories that demonstrate the value of all of the planet’s critters, big and microscopic.