Dedicating his career to tropical conservation biology around the globe, George Van Nostrand Powell is a pioneer in blending field study and application to enhance biodiversity conservation. Dr. Powell integrates his keen insights across animal behavior, field logistics, and the latest technology to push the boundaries of wildlife conservation.
Powell began working in Costa Rica as a graduate student using emerging technologies to study habitat use of iconic bird species, generating data to better inform the design of conservation landscapes to protect the biodiversity of Central America. Through his dedicated efforts, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, one of Costa Rica’s first protected areas, was established. Building on that experience, Dr. Powell helped initiate the development of a national conservation plan for Costa Rica and expanded that planning effort to Central America. He developed the first radio transmitters that could be used on parrots and macaws to help bring highly endangered Great Green Macaw back from the brink of local extinction. His team discovered the last nesting area of the Green Macaws in Costa Rica, subsequently resulting in the establishment of Maquenque National Wildlife Refuge.
As a conservation scientist at the World Wildlife Fund, Dr. Powell brings new conservation science paradigms and emerging technologies to local partners. He teamed up to pilot the use of Lidar to quantify the carbon stored in Amazon forests, a critical step in assigning economic value to a region and prevent forests from being razed. He helped catalyze the development of GPS transmitters that allowed tracking jaguars and peccaries under the dense Amazon canopy.
As the poaching of elephants and rhinos escalated, Powell worked to create technology that could help stop this epidemic. His team is leading the World Wildlife Fund’s experimentation with unmanned aerial vehicles, associated sensors, and other devices for detecting and recognizing poachers. Focus on elephants brought realization that the expansion of human populations into remaining elephant habitat is creating conflict, posing an even greater threat to the animals’ long-term survival. Consequently, Powell is now exploring how to drive technologies to mitigate human-elephant contact.