Milt Kaufmann

by Susan Millward

Colonel Milton M. Kaufmann died on October 29, 2015, aged 97. For the last 40+ years, he had been a dedicated and hard-working volunteer conservationist, locally in his Maryland neighborhood and internationally, most notably in the Caribbean. AWI has long had a relationship with Milt, as he was affectionately known, throughout that time. Milt and AWI’s founder, Christine Stevens, both attended the Plenipotentiary Conference to Conclude an International Convention on Trade in Certain Species of Wildlife in early 1973, where the text of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was finally agreed to after a three-week meeting. A famous photograph of that meeting shows Milt front and center—a position that very much symbolizes his presence on the world conservation stage for the next several decades.

AWI’s Tom Garrett, another environmental legend, spent much time with Milt, plotting ways to promote their conservation agenda domestically and overseas. Tom met Milt in 1971 when Milt had just retired from a 30-year career in the US Air Force and was fighting a pier proposed for the Assateague, Maryland, seashore. They went on to collaborate in a host of ways—from advocating for dolphins at meetings of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission to drafting text for the US Endangered Species Act (Tom attributes the requirement for species recovery plans to Milt) and for the Cartagena Convention’s Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW Protocol), which was initially drafted in Milt’s basement.

Milt founded Monitor Consortium USA in 1972, a coalition of dozens of wildlife conservation and animal welfare groups, and later Monitor International, which evolved into the still-active Monitor Caribbean. In 1981 Milt founded the Wider Caribbean sea turtle conservation program, WIDECAST, which thrives today (see AWI Quarterly, spring 2006).

Milt retired from conservation work several times but always came back for just “one more meeting.” Among his colleagues, Milt was gently jibed over the number of retirements—and parties—he had had, only to resurface at a later date.

I met Milt in 2004, during another Milt resurgence from retirement. Then a research assistant working on marine issues, I gladly agreed to be mentored by Milt in the ways and people of the SPAW Protocol. A long friendship with Milt, his wife Sabina, and daughter Luana, ensued. (Sabina, an artist and herself an extraordinary woman, died in 2014, 10 days shy of her 100th birthday.) I attended many Cartagena Convention and SPAW Protocol meetings with Milt and spent a lot of time, like Tom before me, plotting and drafting in Milt’s basement. Meetings were usually tense, not least because Milt was quite deaf (he later had a cochlear implant, which helped) and I had to pay attention to the back and forth of often complex discussions, while translating into Milt’s personal microphone or scribbling notes to him. One-on-one meetings with Milt were rather amusing as he, not able to hear himself, would shout, even when he was conducting “discrete” negotiations. Because of his personality though, Milt was accepted and even treasured by those subjected to his shouting, nagging and badgering until they saw things his way. Milt was charming, witty, mischievous and an all-around delight to be with, which, along with his tenacity, made him an excellent activist.

Milt’s last Caribbean meeting was in Antigua in 2008 when he was awarded the honorific title of “Friend and Senior Advisor Emeritus of the Caribbean Environment Programme.” I now sit on the board of Monitor Caribbean, and through AWI, continue to work on implementation of the SPAW Protocol. The work is still vital, but the meetings are far duller without my dear friend Milt.

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