Field Museum gives Parker/Gentry Award to missionary turned biologist, Jos 'Pepe' Alvarez

CHICAGO--Due to his vital work studying the birds of Peru and helping to conserve their habitat, Jos "Pepe" Alvarez has won The Field Museum's 11th annual Parker/Gentry Award.

In 1983, Alvarez went to Peru at the age of 25, determined to devote his life to the work of the Catholic Church as a missionary in the Order of Saint Augustine. While spending a lot of time outdoors traveling through the forests and jungles of Peru, the young missionary grew to love nature.

Alvarez fortuitously was conducting his missionary work in a part of Peru that was poorly known biologically. This region also supported plant and animal communities unlike any others then known in Peru or elsewhere in the western Amazon basin.

Eventually, Alvarez left the order and dedicated himself to biology and conservation--applying his same evangelical zeal to studying and preserving the flora and fauna of the Neotropics. The budding biologist soon realized that he was encountering one bird species after another that had never been seen before by ornithologists.

Alvarez named the first bird he and a colleague discovered, Herpsilochmus gentryi, after Alwyn H. Gentry, one of the namesakes of the Parker/Gentry Award. The ancient antwren is four inches long, yellowish with black spots, and restricted to an area between Peru and Ecuador.

The former missionary went on to develop into a skilled scientist. Together with a colleague, he has discovered four new species of Peruvian birds, with more under study. This makes him one of the world's top discoverers of Neotropical birds. At the same time, he has become an equally successful advocate for conservation. He and the Peruvian Amazon Research Institute are responsible for the creation in 1999 of the 143,000-acre (58,000-hectare) Allpahuayo-Mishana Reserve outside Iquitos, Peru, a city with more than 400,000 residents. This reserve is very significant because it protects for the first time in Peru white-sand forests,

Contact: Greg Borzo
Field Museum

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