Appropriately bestowed a dual appointment in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology department and the Woodrow Wilson School, Professor David Wilcove *85 has long been poised at the intersection of environmental science and policy. His research focuses on the conservation of biodiversity and, in particular, the development of innovative approaches to protect endangered species, migratory species, and wilderness. He has also studied the impacts of global climate change on wildlife. After leading a number of Princeton Journeys programs, he finally traveled with a group in 2011 to his favorite place, the perfect When in Rome feature location: Ecuador's Galapagos Islands.
Why do the Galápagos Islands hold such a fascination for you?
The Galápagos are alluring and unforgettable for several reasons. First, the extraordinary tameness of the wildlife truly makes it a "Garden of Eden" experience. Second, it is a fantastic place to ponder the wonder of evolution. Third, it is perhaps the most intact island archipelago (from a conservation perspective) left on earth. You can still see almost all the plants and animals that were there when Darwin arrived aboard The Beagle. But hurry! Many of the native species are in danger of extinction.
What are the three things one must do "when in Rome," particularly for the first-time visitor?
- Go snorkeling with the sea lions and Galápagos penguins (yes, tropical penguins!).
- Go into the highlands to spend time with the Galápagos tortoises.
- Observe the courtship behavior of the blue-footed booby and then try to imitate it when you’re back on board your ship.
What are the two or three things that one should do or places that one should go while in the Galápagos that they won’t find in a typical guidebook?
- See if you can identify some of the Darwin’s finches. Yes, they’re basically little sparrow-like birds, and separating the medium ground-finch from the small ground-finch is not simple, but trying to tell them apart will give you a first-hand lesson in evolution.
- Catch at least one dawn and a few sunsets from the bow of the ship.
What is in competition with the Galápagos for your favorite spot on the planet?
From the Galápagos Islands I'll head to the opposite end of the earth: Bhutan. Nestled in the Himalayas, it is a truly unique nation with a pre-industrial landscape of undisturbed mountains and forests and a 21st-century environmental ethic. And the architecture is fascinating.