I woke up this morning to a battery of emails expressing their condolences on the tragic passing of Navjot Sodhi. I have to say that his death is personally a huge blow, and professionally, a tragic loss to the fields of ecology and conservation biology. He was a good friend, and a bloke with whom I had some great times. He was someone I could trust.
Many of you will know that Navjot had been ill for the last few months. I was told that at first it was something unidentifiable, then it was suspected diabetes, then the shock – some sort of ‘blood cancer’. I found out today it was one of the worst and most aggressive kinds of lymphoma that shuffled dear Navjot off this mortal coil. And it acted fast.
As I reflect on this moment, I remember all the times I spent with Navjot. I first met him in 1992 in the most unlikely of places – Edmonton, Canada at the University of Alberta where I was doing my MSc, and he his post-doc with Sue Hannon. Many years later, Navjot confessed that he thought I was a complete knob when he first met me, and that’s something we’ve laughed about on many occasions thereafter.
But it wasn’t until 2006 and over 10 years later that we became truly acquainted. My good friend and close colleague, Barry Brook, ‘introduced’ us again when I was at Charles Darwin University. We both looked at each other and said: “Hey, I know you!”, and then, well, it’s history.
Navjot and I have published 18 peer-reviewed papers, 3 book chapters and 1 book together since 2006 – he was a machine, and he could find the novel, insightful, brilliant line of reasoning in just about anything he turned his hand to. Our 2007 book, Tropical Conservation Biology, was mostly his doing – a piece I’m still very proud to have co-authored with him and Barry.
But that’s just my side – Navjot was an unquestionable conservation scholar – one of the top minds in the field. He did ground-breaking work and published on pretty much all aspects of tropical (and otherwise) ecology and conservation. He also saw the important socio-economic problems conservationists face; in fact, he was much more a scientist of application than a mere theoretician. He has probably been directly responsible for the protection of 1000s of species that would otherwise no longer be with us. His legacy is best writ in those non-human lives that persist because of him.
Navjot was also one of the principal editors behind Biological Conservation, and has had many other editorial roles in journals including Conservation Biology and Biotropica. He wasn’t just an office-bound geek though – a keen birder and exquisite field biologist, Navjot loved to get down and dirty.
I am going to take the liberty of reproducing some of the sentiments coming through the email today from many great ecologist colleagues. I hope they don’t mind:
I can’t tell you how distressed Anne and I are at this horrible news… He was one of the great stars of conservation science, but also a wonderful (and funny) colleague and friend. – Paul Ehrlich
Navjot was such a leader, such a true-blue friend, and such a warrior for conservation. – William Laurance
What a terrible loss. Just terrible. We are diminished. – Thomas Lovejoy
I have nothing I can say to express my profound sadness at this – only tears at the loss of such a terrific and dear friend. He’ll always be missed, never forgotten by us. - Barry Brook
The news is absolutely devastating — what a loss to his students, colleagues, families, friends and to conservation writ large. – Josh Ginsberg
Words fail me! I am stunned… What a terrible loss to conservation and conservation biology… - Daniel Simberloff
He brought us all together in the spirit of conservation and he will be sorely missed. I hope that we can all continue the struggle that he uniquely championed. – David Bickford
Navjot was an extraordinary inspiration, a unique and tireless motivating force for so many people. His legacy will be long with us. – Toby Gardner
Working with Navjot was such a wonderful thing. He was always extremely kind and symplathetic. We will miss him dearly. – Gerardo Ceballos
Navjot is survived by his wife and two adult children. My thoughts go out to them.
Cheers, mate – you were one of the best ones, and I’ll miss you dearly.