The Paul Moler Herpetological Conservation Award


Nomination statement for Dr. Thomas Kaplan, recipient of the Florida Chapter of The Wildlife Society's 2009 Paul Moler Herpetological Conservation Award:

Dr. Thomas Kaplan only recently entered the world of conservation, but has already made an incredible impact. As a child, he developed a love of wildlife through books and travels with his family, but as an adult, did not pursue his passion for many years. Tom received a Ph.D. in history from Oxford University, went on to make a fortune as a successful business man and entrepreneur, and retired in 2004. In 2006, Kaplan founded Panthera, an organization dedicated to global conservation of wild cat species based on rigorous science and resource sustainability. Kaplan’s innovative way of thinking, financial ability, and team of world-renowned experts are turning big dreams into reality. Panthera is making a significant difference by approaching species conservation from a broad-based ecosystem perspective. Kaplan’s goal is to ensure that Panthera’s efforts to save the big cats will be successful into perpetuity.

In 2007, at the urging of his young daughter to “do the same thing for indigo snakes that you are doing for big cats”, Tom founded Project Orianne, named in honor of his daughter. The mission of Project Orianne is “to ensure the range-wide recovery and viability of eastern indigo snakes and their habitats by using science to direct conservation.”

During its one-year existence, Project Orianne has made considerable progress. Accomplishments include: Sponsored two meetings bringing together indigo snake and land conservation experts for discussions; Hired an executive director and other staff; Developed a Conservation Action Plan; Working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on revisions to the Indigo Snake Recovery Plan; Purchased 900 contiguous acres of indigo snake habitat in Georgia; additional properties are being assessed for acquisition; Funding a land management team that will work across the entire range of the indigo to improve habitats; Developed working relationships with the U.S. Forest Service, the Florida Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, and other state and private partners to improve and restore habitats; Funding research on using dogs as survey tools, thermal biology as it relates to the use of gopher tortoise burrows, population demographics, reintroductions, genetics, and GIS-based conservation planning; Funding a range-wide inventory and monitoring program; and Building a captive propagation facility.

The eastern indigo was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1973, but populations and habitat availability have continued to decline. Until now, there was little hope that the piecemeal approach to recovery and conservation would be enough to save the indigo from extinction. Tom Kaplan’s vision, common sense, and willingness to put his money where his heart is are going to turn fate around for the eastern indigo snake. Tom deserves the Paul Moler Herpetological Conservation Award not only because of the accomplishments of Project Orianne, but also for the refreshing example of truly constructive action that he has demonstrated.