Finding the Fossa: An interview with explorer Luke Dollar

madagascar_map.gifWe were first introduced to conservation ecologist and National Geographic Emerging
Explorer Luke Dollar’s work a month ago during his engaging presentation at the 2009 National Geographic Explorers Symposium. It was impossible to not be entirely absorbed by his story and experiences on the African island of Madagascar.

Years ago, Luke began his work in Madagascar as a student tracking lemurs, but his target of interest quickly turned elsewhere when one of his animal subjects went missing, and was found later to have been devoured by the locally-infamous carnivore, the Fossa.

Since that time Luke’s efforts have been solely focused on this new scope of study: examining the natural history and ecological role of the Fossa, Madagascar’s largest endemic (exclusively native) predator. The fossa’s importance as a keystone species is growing as Madagascar faces increasingly serious conservation issues – particularly deforestation.

Dollar is one scientist making a distinct difference in Madagascar’s future, and he has taken a leading role in citizen science by working with the Earthwatch organization to engage the public in his research overseas.

Luke was generous enough to talk with us about his research and his work with citizen scientists. Check out our short but inspiring interview with this intriguing explorer:

MWW: When did you first know you wanted to be a scientist?

  As a child, I was always sure I wanted to be either a doctor or a scientist. The summer after my freshman year at Duke University, I went to Los Angeles and worked as an ambulance-based EMT and ER technician.  It was an invaluable, hands-on experience. However when I returned to my childhood home in Alabama that summer, I visited my grandparents farm and took a walk through the woods I grew up in. I came across a large newly clear-cut forest, where I had once sat for hundreds of hours alone as a kid thinking and dreaming. It was then that I developed a concern and love of the outdoors and interest in nature conservation. I found the motives behind this destructive logging superficial and heartbreaking, and I realized that most people had enough help but nature didn’t.

As a young, rural, southern boy, I had often gone fishing hunting and hiking in the forest behind my grandparents’ home. I had particularly enjoyed the beauty of the area, where I would hike up old wagon trails and look out on the wide majestic valleys. Returning after such a short period of time, and experiencing this drastic change was as traumatic as losing a loved one to an avoidable accident.

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