TWS 2023: Leopold Award recipient searches for the ‘purple bike’

John Koprowski discusses the importance of benefiting communities in conservation work

When John Koprowski and his student Shambhu Paudel were studying river dolphins in Nepal, their most important partners were the people who lived in the area. But they soon found for the local people, the researchers were important, too.

The advisor and student had worked to help local communities coexist with the endangered freshwater dolphins, which had often caught in fishing nets and struggled to survive downstream of a hydroelectric dam. Locals became involved in data collection on how the Ganges dolphin (Platanista gangetica gangetica) and promoting ecotourism.

On one visit, a local family ushered Koprowski into their home to show them something that had changed their lives. Lifting up a blanket, they revealed a purple bicycle. The bike, which they purchased with help from ecotourism dollars and their fishing markets, allowed their son to make a 20-mile trip to school, enabling a college education that might not have happened otherwise.

“That purple bike was truly burned into my brain,” said Koprowski, The Wildlife Society’s 2022 Aldo Leopold Memorial Award recipient in his keynote at this year’s 30th annual TWS conference in Louisville, Kentucky. He has dedicated his career to finding the “purple bike”— the benefit that conservation work can bring to communities.

Koprowski, a dean of the University of Wyoming’s Haub School of Environmental and Natural Resources and professor emeritus at the University of Arizona, has spent much of his career working on the endangered Mount Graham red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus grahamensis).

Past TWS President Carol Chambers receives the 2023 Aldo Leopold Memorial Award. Credit: David Frey/TWS

For someone growing up in Cleveland, Ohio who didn’t see an ocean until he was 30, Koprowski has traveled the world searching for metaphorical “purple bikes.” He and his students have aided a women-run anti-poaching group in South Africa and helped ranchers in Bolivia coexist with the Andean bear (Tremarctos ornatus).

“For me, it comes back to remembering this purple bike,” Koprowski said. “It just proves to be a really useful shorthand for reminding ourselves how do we go about finding the good part.”

Carol Chambers accepted the 2023 Aldo Leopold Memorial Award. She will be speak at next year’s annual conference in Baltimore, Maryland.

“For me, to be considered for this award is overwhelming, and to receive it, more so,” Chambers said.


Header Image: TWS’s 2022 Aldo Leopold Memorial Award recipient John Koprowski discusses his search for the “purple bike” in wildlife conservation work. Credit: David Frey/TWS