Mario Cohn-Haft

Off to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire for his undergraduate degree, Mario became very familiar with the birds of the moist, humid forests of northern New England. In fact, as an undergraduate project, he mapped out the birds and bird distributions of a woodland preserve owned by the college. “There were some Outing Club cabins up in a patch of woods called the Dartmouth Grant. In return for doing maintenance on the cabins, mowing the grass, etc., they paid for me to stay up there all summer, and do my bird studies.“ The result was a little field guide to the preserve, and Mario’s first taste of “professional” bird watching.

He decided early that a great career would be to lead bird watching tours. But how to get into the business? He knew a lot about the birds of New England, but the really good trips, and really good birding, were down in South America, in rainforests. So, he spent seven years doing “bird slave” jobs—hiring on as research assistant, field assistant... whatever assignments would let him learn more about the birds of various regions. And he did get opportunities to go into the rainforest, in Costa Rica and Panama.

In 1985, a “bird slave” job opening was advertised for South America. The work was being done under Tom Lovejoy, then of the World Wildlife Fund, and most recently of the Smithsonian. This was Mario’s chance to finally see the birds of the Amazon! He applied to and was accepted for a 6-month position at INPA, banding birds. Because of various administrative difficulties, however, it took almost 2 years for him to be able to make the trip down south. In the meantime, various other offers came up, including a chance to go to New Guinea to study birds, but he wanted to be available for the INPA job whenever his paperwork finally cleared, and so he turned them all down.

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