National Geographic Society Newsroom

Remembering Explorer at Large Dr. Thomas Lovejoy

The National Geographic Society is deeply saddened by the passing of National Geographic Explorer at Large and renowned conservation biologist Dr. Thomas Lovejoy.

The National Geographic Society is deeply saddened by the passing of National Geographic Explorer at Large and renowned conservation biologist Dr. Thomas Lovejoy. Our condolences are with Tom’s family, friends, and colleagues at this time. 

Throughout his career, Tom made an impressive contribution to the field of conservation biology and brought attention to the fragile state of our environment. He is well-known for popularizing the term “biological diversity” and analyzing the interaction between climate change and biodiversity, including his work in the Brazilian Amazon rainforests. 

Tom joined the National Geographic community in 1971 when he received his first grant to study the ecology of rainforest birds in the Amazon. He then went on to serve as a member of the Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration, Ocean Restoration Advisory Council; the chair of the Big Cats Initiatives Grants Committee and the Advisory Committee of the Great Energy Challenge; and as a scientific advisor to the Society’s Chief Scientist and its Perpetual Planet Expeditions. In 2019, he was selected as a National Geographic Explorer at Large, a title he held until his passing.

Tom leaves behind a tremendous legacy in the fields of conservation and biology, as well at the Society. We are proud to have known and worked with Tom over the last five decades.

Given his impact at National Geographic, we asked some of our staff to share their reflections:

“Tom left a profound legacy in the field of biology and at the National Geographic Society, where he was a beloved member of our community for more than 50 years. To know Tom was to know an extraordinary scientist, professor, advisor, and unyielding champion for our planet. He was also a consummate connector, helping bring people and organizations together to preserve and protect some of our most fragile ecosystems and cornerstone species. Tom’s pioneering research of the Amazon, passionate advocacy, and many other achievements helped us to  better understand, appreciate, and care for the great diversity of life on our planet. He left an indelible mark on us all and will be deeply missed.”  — Jill Tiefenthaler, Chief Executive Officer

“I am deeply saddened by the passing of my friend Tom Lovejoy. As a global champion for increasing and diffusing knowledge around environmental science, Tom exemplified what it means to be a National Geographic Explorer. He was eternally hopeful and always generous with his time—especially with early career scientists. Tom was a beloved member of the National Geographic community for 50 years, and I am thankful to have had the opportunity to know him both professionally and personally.”

— Alex Moen, Chief Explorer Engagement Officer

Tom was a giant in the field of ecology and conservation. He showed the world how breaking up tropical forests in fragments accelerates extinction of species and the breakdown of entire ecosystems, and coined the term ‘biological diversity,’ among many other scientific achievements. He fought hard for the conservation of the Amazon forest. But most importantly, he was a wonderful mentor and extremely generous with his students, colleagues, and friends. He was the epitome of ‘gentleman and scholar.’ I’ll miss my dear friend, but his legacy and inspiration will remain with us forever.” — Enric sala, explorer in residence

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