Dr. Anton "Twan" Leenders has found his perfect balance of research and education.
The new president and chief executive officer of the Roger Tory Peterson Institute is the fifth to be named to the position. He is looking to share his knowledge and expand upon the Roger Tory Peterson name.
Leenders was born and raised in the Netherlands, and went to school there as well.
Dr. Anton “Twan” Leenders is the new executive director for the Roger Tory Peterson Institute.
P-J photo by Liz Skoczylas
"During my time at university, I started getting more involved with rain forest conservation, mostly because that was something that was just not mentioned on the other side of the puddle," Leenders said.
Rain forest conservation is something that has always interested Leenders, from the time when he was young. Leenders said he received his first library card at the age of 5.
"I would go to the library pretty much every day and pick out those Disney picture books with the rain forest pictures," Leenders said. "When I finally had my chance to act on that, I did."
Leenders spent several years in Central America, studying rain forest canopy and ecology. He used techniques he had learned from Dr. Donald Perry, a biologist from New York. Additionally, he wrote the first field guide to reptiles and amphibians for Costa Rica.
"I became somewhat of an expert on reptiles and amphibians in Central America before that whole region was really accessible, and before that whole group of animals were accessible," Leenders said.
For several years, Leenders went back and forth between doing field research as a conservation biologist and teaching others what he knew.
"I was very privileged to be experiencing all these different areas and living in these different communities," Leenders said. "I was finding all these different animals on the planet that nobody had ever really seen, or people had seen them but weren't really aware of their relevance."
Eleven years ago, Leenders came to the United States and developed an interest in Roger Tory Peterson.
"His contributions are just tremendous, and they are still so relevant, more so now then they even were then," Leenders said.
Leenders and his family wound up in Jamestown, because his wife is originally from the area. His father-in-law is the chairman of the board of trustees, which provided Leenders with the opportunity to get to know the institute, as well as former president, Jim Berry.
"Whenever I would come into town for family business, Jim and I would always try to sneak off for a couple hours and go birding," Leenders said. "He seemed to have this idea that I would be a good person to apply for his job by the time he decided to retire. Apparently, other people thought that, too, and picked me out of the pool."
Roger Tory Peterson's favorite bird was a penguin, Leenders picks out the bobolink as being at the top of his personal list.
"It's got such a funny name, you've got to like the thing," Leenders said. "But, not only does it have a funny name, it has the most incredible song... It's an indicator species for quality grasslands, which is a threatened habitat in much of the United States."
Now that Leenders has officially settled into his new position, he is looking ahead for what is to come for the Roger Tory Peterson Institute. He is looking to restore the relevance of Roger Tory Peterson's mission and legacy.
"In the long term, if we cannot be better stewards of our environment, it's going to come back to bite us," Leenders said. "We have a great example in Roger Tory Peterson, in that he was a normal kid from any small city in the United States, who had a dream, had a passion, and put his talents to use."
Although Leenders has had many experiences throughout his life, he said he is now in his dream position to both do research and educate others.
"Twenty years ago, I was dangling like a Christmas ornament from a tree somewhere," Leenders said. "I've always gone back and forth between my desire to educate and my desire to learn more. I think this is a nice combination of the two."