If we ordered the world differently, everyone would know Rodrigo Medellin.
As it is, the world knows the names of presidents, of mass murderers, and of supermodels. (Medellin did get his start thanks to his appearance on a game show, but that's not why we should know his name.)
Medellin is a Mexican biologist. Bats are his specialty, but he's come to be synonymous with Mexican mammals of all kinds, and with them their habitats. So, in effect, he is synonymous with the wildlife of Mexico.
If the world were ordered according to its biological richness, Medellin would be known worldwide.
It's been estimated that 10% of all the world's species live in Mexico, the only country to span six ecological zones. It ranks second or third among the world's nations for mammal diversity, fourth for reptiles, amphibians and vascular plants, and 10th for birds.
Viewed from a geologic perspective, Mexico owes its unique character in great part to the collision, 6 million years ago, of North and South America. Viewed from a human perspective, Mexico owes its preservation, in part, to Rodrigo Medellin.
Medellin grew to love wildlife early, and was invited to start his university education at age 12 after appearing on The Great 64,000 Peso Contest, a TV show modeled on The $64,000 Question.
He gave up a strict focus on bats because, he said, he felt a great weight of responsibility for the nation's wildlife as a whole, given that so few do the kind of work he does. (He's one of only a couple dozen scientists studying mammals in Mexico.) His work has helped create vast preserves that will be protected in perpetuity in one of the world's most unique landscapes.
Earlier this month, Medellin won the Wildlife Trust Conservation Scientist Award, and I had the pleasure of meeting him at the ceremony in New York City. (Batman comes to Gotham was a common refrain.) He's more at home in the field, he said, and I'm sure he wouldn't care how many people know his name. He spoke with quiet passion about his life's work.
Which is the preservation of the land and living things that make Mexico Mexico. Which make the world the world. Which makes Rodrigo Medellin a name we should know.
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