• Awarded: 2008
  • Issue Areas: Arresting Deforestation · Environmental Sustainability
  • Region: South America
  • Web:
  • About the Organization

    The Amazon Conservation Team (ACT) is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving South American rainforests. ACT occupies a unique niche among other environmental organizations working in the tropics: it works hand in hand with local indigenous communities to devise and implement its conservation strategies.

    ACT was founded in 1996 by ethnobotanist Mark Plotkin and conservationist Liliana Madrigal with the mission of working with indigenous groups in tropical America to protect biodiversity and strengthen indigenous culture and health. Since its founding, ACT has partnered with more than 30 groups throughout South America on numerous initiatives. ACT believes that indigenous peoples are the best stewards of the rainforest because they have a physical, medical, and spiritual tie to these lands.

    ACT conducts the vast majority of its biocultural conservation projects within the tropical forests of northern Amazonia. In each case, in-country conservation activities have been designed to address the most urgent needs of partners and have been adapted to operate most effectively within their respective contexts.

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

    ACT works with indigenous peoples of the Amazon Basin to develop their capacity to protect their rainforest home.

    Tribal associations supported by ACT map and manage key territories and promote creation of protected areas.

    Ambition for Change

    Tribes are empowered to remain on their land and use modern technology and methods, such as GPS units and satellite imagery, to protect and advocate for their forests while strengthening and preserving traditional culture.

    Path to Scale

    Build Capacity, Move On

    ACT builds the capacity of tribal associations to take over programs and outreach, which allows the organization to then focus resources on moving into new areas.

    Business Model

    Philanthropic and development agency support.

    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 & Accomplishments

    • 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.

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