It was the “beauty and nobility” of the blue iguana that inspired Fred Burton to dedicate his career to the cause of this rock-dwelling lizard.
For him, the reward lies in seeing a species he helped bring back from the brink of extinction, roaming freely in its ancestral home. But the environmentalist will get his share of the limelight after being nominated for a $250,000 award, dubbed the Nobel Prize of the conservation world.
Mr. Burton is on a list of 39 conservationists – all of whom have dedicated their lives to saving the Earth’s endangered species – nominated for the Indianapolis Prize.
Also on the list is conservation icon Jane Goodall, renowned as the first person to discover tool-making in primates and a champion for chimpanzees globally.
Other nominees include a jaguar expert from Mexico, a researcher working with snow leopards in Asia and the founder of a wolf conservation program in Ethiopia.
Mr. Burton said he was surprised and honored to be nominated. He said Ms Goodall was the most obvious choice as the winner of the award, organized by the Indianapolis Zoo.
An information gathering process, including interviews with the nominees, will now take place before six finalists are selected next spring.
“I really don’t expect to make the short list, let alone win, after all there are some globally known figures on that list who have probably achieved far more than I,” Mr. Burton said. “But I do hope that the publicity that comes with things like this will help focus attention on the work we are still doing for Cayman’s blue iguana and will reflect well on the Cayman Islands generally.”
For Mr. Burton, the real rewards lie in the results.
“Seeing blue iguanas roaming and breeding in their ancestral areas and seeing some progress in protecting some pieces of their habitat is what keeps me motivated and gives me and my colleagues the most sense of achievement,” he said.
Tandora Grant, a former colleague of Mr. Burton who now works at the San Diego Zoo and who had a part in nominating him for the award, said she believes he would be a worthy winner.
“Caymanians should be extremely proud of the accomplishments of Fred Burton and the Blue Iguana Recovery Program – his nomination for the Indianapolis Prize is a huge testament to that,” she said. “This is a very prestigious prize, whose awardees are among the world’s leaders in animal conservation.”
The Indianapolis Prize is awarded to an individual who has accomplished a significant achievement or achievements in the conservation of an animal species or group of species, resulting in an advance in long-term sustainability. The winner of the prize will receive an unrestricted $250,000 cash award and the Lilly Medal. Five other finalists will each receive $10,000.
“The current nominees are exceptional and they represent many of the most significant wildlife conservationists working in the field today,” said Michael Crowther, president and CEO of the Indianapolis Zoo.
“Increasingly, more species are at risk of extinction, and these heroes deserve our recognition and support for their expertise, accomplishments and tireless efforts protecting them. We encourage people around the world to celebrate the nominees’ important work and to join them in advancing animal conservation.”