Skoll Foundation


Amazon Conservation Team

Skoll Awardee(s): Mark Plotkin and Liliana Madrigal
Award Year: 2008
Issue Area(s) Addressed: Environmental Sustainability

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“The only way to truly preserve the rainforests of the Amazon – including their rich biodiversity and culture – is to enlist the assistance of the people who actually live there. Indigenous peoples know, manage, and protect the rainforest far better than we do. By respecting their knowledge and giving them the tools they need to enforce their legal rights, we can protect the greatest expression of life on Earth.”

Sub-Issue: Arresting Deforestation

The Amazon forests – the lungs of the world – are being destroyed at an alarming rate.

The Skoll Awardees: Mark and Liliana, a husband and wife team, have spent much of their lives preserving the Amazon rainforest and the knowledge and culture of its indigenous inhabitants. Liliana and Mark recognized that the loss of the forest and the destruction of tribal culture were inextricably linked and that one could not thrive without the other. Mark, an ethnobotanist, became hooked on plants, hooked on Indians and hooked on the Amazon through his mentor, the great Harvard ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes. Working to learn about the rainforest and preserve the knowledge of the elderly shamans, he realized that both were disappearing and that the tribes’ cultural destruction was inextricably linked to the destruction of the rainforest. Liliana is a passionate crusader for indigenous rights. She learned from her conservation mentors the value of an expansive vision and a feet in the mud attitude and brought these lessons to her work to co-found the national park system of Costa Rica and to ensure that traditional tribal knowledge and land management skills are passed on to younger generations. Mark and Liliana founded ACT in 1996 to preserve the cultures of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon and develop their capacity to provide enduring protection of their rainforest home. At the time of the Award, ACT had brokered the creation of 12 tribal associations, worked with indigenous people to map and improve management of 40 million acres of Amazon forest, and created new categories of protected areas in the northwest Amazon, managed by local tribespeople in partnership with local and national governments.

Impact since joining the portfolio in 2008:

  • In partnership with local indigenous groups, completed ethnographic and land use mapping of more than 70 million acres of Amazon rainforest lands, laying the groundwork for forest management plans and improved protection, and improving monitoring on 38 million of those acres to date.
  • Trained more than 125 indigenous persons as park guards with technical and communications skills to enable their communities to work with state and national government in land management.
  • Facilitated national registration of 30 indigenous associations in three countries.
  • Worked with the government of Colombia to expand Chiribiquete National Park from 12,990 to 27,808 square kilometers, making it one of the biggest protected areas in the Amazon, including areas inhabited by two voluntarily isolated tribes potentially at risk from oil exploration and mining.



© 2015 Skoll Foundation.