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His search to understand polar bears has taken him to one of the world’s harshest environments– a frozen seascape where temperatures plummet below zero and the sun isn’t seen for months. Steven C. Amstrup, an adjunct professor in the University of Wyoming Department of Zoology and Physiology, was selected from among a group of six outstanding finalists to receive the 2012 Indianapolis Prize – the world’s leading award for animal conservation.
Presented by the Indianapolis Zoo, the biennial prize includes an unrestricted award of $100,000 and the Lilly Medal, which will be presented Sept. 29 by Cummins, Inc. at the JW Marriott Hotel in Indianapolis.
Widely recognized as one of the most important and influential scientists working on polar bear conservation, Amstrup led the international team of researchers whose reports became the basis for the 2008 listing of polar bears as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
Amstrup’s three decades of polar bear research and his unwavering conviction that solutions can and must be found created new optimism that polar bears can be saved from extinction. In recognition of his life-long work to transform the world’s understanding of and efforts to save polar bears, Amstrup, chief scientist for Polar Bears International, was selected to receive the Indianapolis Prize.
“Steven’s fieldwork in the Arctic opened the door to understanding that the deterioration of the polar bear population is at our doorstep, while verifying that this is not an irreversible situation,” says Robert Buchanan, President/CEO, Polar Bears International. “His message is one of hope and determination to have future generations see polar bears roam free in the Arctic.”
An adjunct professor at UW since 2006, Amstrup's first link with UW was when he developed some research projects in Alaska with Merav Ben-David, now a professor at UW. He has co-advised Ben-David's graduate students and helped secure funding for student projects.
He also worked with Ben-David and UW Zoology Professor Hank Harlow to assemble a collaborative project involving eco-physiological challenges facing polar bears in a declining ice environment; has given guest lectures to both faculty and student groups at UW; and has visited with several students about the life of a field research biologist.
"My interactions with UW are always energizing experiences that I thoroughly enjoy," Amstrup says. “I value the privilege I have been given to serve UW in this way."