Walking through the Amazon rain forest in northern Bolivia, a guide plucked a leaf from a tree and handed it to Ian Thompson.
"He told me to rub it on my hand," said Thompson, who became director of The Nature Conservancy's Amazon Conservation Program late last year. "Within 10 minutes, my whole hand was purple -- it made some kind of dye. It's just a classic example of one of many remarkable resources of the Amazon."
Thompson told the story while discussing the conservancy's goals in Pittsburgh recently during a private meeting with its supporters. The environmental organization has programs in more than 30 countries.
"We're working with the indigenous people to bring our scientific resources and technology to help them conserve the land they depend on and preserve their knowledge," Thompson said. "Their cultural value, their lives, are this land and water."
Thompson, who was born in Northern Ireland, came to The Nature Conservancy after working in Brazil for 15 years, mostly as a forestry specialist in the British government's Department for International Development.
Bob Rudzki, of Upper St. Clair, and his wife, Nancy, began donating to The Nature Conservancy because they wanted to preserve the beauty of the Caribbean, which they visited during their honeymoon more than 20 years ago.
They donate to the conservancy's general fund, some of which supports the Amazon program's annual budget of about $3.5 million. Forbes Magazine gives Arlington, Va.-based The Nature Conservancy an 88 percent fundraising efficiency, meaning it spends 12 cents on the dollar to encourage people to donate.
"The Amazon has a huge impact on the ecology of the whole world - - it is a massive, enormous amount of pristine area," Rudzki said. "What Ian and his colleagues are doing ... is really giving all the local people the tools they need to manage and protect the ecology themselves. …