How a Shaman’s Apprentice Uses Disruptive Technology to Empower Amazonian Tribes | Mark Plotkin – EN28

On today’s show, I interview Mark Plotkin, ethnobotanist, author and president of The Amazon Conservation Team. Mark originally founded this organization as a way to commune between the two disparate fields of aiding the people of the Amazon and the rain forest itself. In his experience, other conservation efforts did not bring these two worlds together, something that is integral to any real effort for either. During our chat, we look at the early years of Mark’s organization, working with local leaders in the Amazon to create maps of the areas and the challenges that these processes posed. We also get to hear from Mark about what keeps him motivated, the status of Shamanism in the contemporary climate and what he believes are essential attitudes towards successful social entrepreneurship. Through our discussion, we learn what ethnobotany as a study can look like and get some nuggets of wisdom from a learned and dedicated student of the jungle. We also end off the episode with a wonderful Ecuadorian psychedelic piece of music from Nicola Cruz! So let’s dive right in and hear what Mark has to say!

Key Points From This Episode:

  • The reasons Mark started his organization, The Amazon Conservation Team.
  • Mark’s definition of social entrepreneurship for non-profit organization.
  • The initiative that Mark spearheaded in which he provided GPS skills for map creation.
  • Some of the challenges that Mark faced in educating and creating maps in the Amazon.
  • The spiritual boomerang and the reasons Mark keeps going with his quest.
  • Mark’s perspective on the fundamental characteristics of success and the importance of luck.
  • How 9/11 almost closed the doors of The Amazon Conservation Team.
  • Times in the field when Mark feared for his life and the lessons experience has taught him.
  • Modern Shamanism and the navigating the contemporary world with ancient wisdom.
  • Mark’s beliefs around the spirit world and his experiences relating to it.
  • Day to day life in the field and what ethnobotany consists of.
  • Advice to social entrepreneurs who might be considering working in the Amazon.
  • Mark’s attitude and approach to changing the world effectively.
  • And much more!


“What we like to say when we are asked about these type of social entrepreneurship approaches, is that it is the marriage of ancient shamanic wisdom and 21st century technology.” ” — @DocMarkPlotkin [0:10:42.2]

“We didn’t set out to map the Amazon, we didn’t set out teach Indians how to use technology, what we did set out to do was give these guys a level playing field or even an advantage on that playing field over the people who want to take advantage of them in may cases.” — @DocMarkPlotkin [0:16:00.1]

About Mark Plotkin

Mark J. Plotkin is an ethnobotanist and a plant explorer in the Neotropics, where he is an expert on rainforest ecosystems. Plotkin is an advocate for tropical rainforest conservation.

After attending Isidore Newman School in New Orleans, Plotkin worked at Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology when he joined an expedition searching for an elusive crocodilian species in 1978 and was galvanized into returning to education. He completed his bachelor of liberal arts degree at the Harvard Extension School, his master’s degree in forestry at Yale School of Forestry, and his Ph.D. at Tufts University; during which he completed a handbook for the Tiriyó people of Suriname detailing their own medicinal plants—the only other book printed in Tiriyó language being the Bible. He went on to do research at Harvard under Richard Evans Schultes. He is the author of the book Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice. Other critically acclaimed books by Plotkin include Medicine Quest, The Killers Within: the Deadly Rise of Drug-Resistant Bacteria (with Michael Shnayerson), and The Shaman’s Apprentice, (a children’s book with Lynne Cherry).

In 1995, Plotkin and prominent Costa Rican conservationist Liliana Madrigal formed the Amazon Conservation Team[1] to protect Amazonian rainforest in partnership with local indigenous peoples. ACT has now worked with 32 tribes throughout Amazonia. Plotkin continues to work with the Tirio of Suriname, and in Brazil as well. He is featured in the 1997 IMAX film Amazon, written by photojournalist Loren McIntyre.

Plotkin received the San Diego Zoo Gold Medal for Conservation (1993) and the Roy Chapman Andrews Distinguished Explorer Award (2004). Time called him an “Environmental Hero for the Planet” (2001) and Smithsonian hailed him as one of “35 Who Made a Difference” (2005), along with other notables like Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg, and fellow New Orleanian Wynton Marsalis.

In March 2008, Plotkin and Madrigal were among those chosen as “Social Entrepreneurs of the Year” by the Skoll Foundation.

In May 2010, Mark Plotkin received the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. The degree citation read in part: “For teaching us that the loss of knowledge and species anywhere impoverishes us all; for combining humanitarian vision with academic rigor and moral sensibility; and for reminding us always, with clarity and passion and humor, that when we study people and plants, we are simultaneously exploring paths to philosophy, music, art, dance, reverence, and healing; Lewis and Clark is honored to confer on you today the Doctorate of Humane Letters, honoris causa.” In October of the same year, the great primatologist Jane Goodall presented Mark with an award for “International Conservation Leadership.”

Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:

Mark Plotkin on Twitter

Mark Plotkin on Ted

The Amazon Conservation Team

Tales of A Shama’s Apprentice

Medicine Quest

Spiritual Evolution with Sacred Plant Medicines

EntheoNation Patreon

Nicola Cruz Bandcamp

Medicine Music for the Soul


Birds of Paradise

Desert Dwellers


The Human Experience


Phuture Primitive

Shaman’s Dream


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