Paul Cox was in the village of Falealupo the day bulldozers came growling toward the rain forest.
Falealupo is on the island of Savaii in Western Samoa. It's a poor village in a poor country, but until recently the villagers were not tempted to trade their rain forest for money. For years, logging companies had tried to convince the village to sell their trees, and for years the villagers had said no. The rain forest was sacred.But when the national government announced that the village would have to erect - and pay for - a new schoolhouse, villagers knew the only way they could come up with enough cash would be to let the bulldozers and the logging machines in.
Paul Cox, professor of botany at Brigham Young University, was in Falealupo the day the bulldozers arrived. Cox is a dedicated naturalist who can't fathom how industrialized countries can destroy rain forests just to make things like toilet paper.
"To me it's like walking into the Uffizi Gallery and ripping a Renoir off the wall and using it to wipe up the floor."
According to scientists, tropical rain forests are being destroyed at a rate of 3,000 acres an hour - a destruction that is affecting global weather, as well as killing off whole species of animals and plants. At least 1,400 of these plants, according to the World Resources Institute, are believed to offer cures for cancer.
To the villagers of Falealupo, the bulldozers that lumbered through their rain forest that day also meant a destruction of their way of life. Cox looked around him and saw that the village chiefs were crying.
Call an emergency meeting of the village council, Cox suggested to the chiefs, and when the council was assembled Cox found himself making a startling offer: What if I pay for the school, he said, and you agree to keep the rain forest as a preserve.
It didn't take long for the villagers to decide. Pretty soon the chiefs were running the 8 miles back to the bulldozers to tell them to turn around - and to never come back.
Since then, Cox has helped raise $51,000 to build the village school and save the forest. Most of the money was donated by two men, Ken Murdock, president of Murdock HealthCare in Springville, and Rex Maugham, president of Forever Living Products in Phoenix. For their efforts, Cox, Murdock and Maugham have been named honorary chiefs of Falealupo.
Cox continues to look for new ways to fund the project, and to launch a similar project on the Tafua peninsula. While in Sweden not long ago, he convinced the World Wildlife Fund and a Swedish conservation group to help him raise $200,000.
Most recently he has brought an unusual exhibit to BYU, one that will, in a sense, complete a circle begun more than 200 years ago in the rain forests of the South Pacific.
Through a cooperative effort of BYU, the British Museum of Natural History and Alecto Historical Editions, drawings made on the first voyage of Captain James Cook to the tropics are being sold to help preserve today's rain forests.
The 80 Tahitian floral prints are on display through April 20 at the Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum on the BYU campus. The prints are also available for purchase, with 10 percent of gross sales being donated to Samoan rain forest preservation.
In 1768, Captain Cook boarded the H.M.S. Endeavor for the first of his celebrated world voyages of discovery. On board also was a young artist named Sydney Parkinson. Under the direction of the ship's botanist, Sir Joseph Banks, Parkinson's job was to execute lifelike drawings of plant specimens found along the way.
His shipboard studio left a lot to be desired: Eighty-six people were crammed into the 106-foot ship and bugs ate at his colors almost as soon as he applied them to paper. Twenty-eight months into the voyage, Parkinson died, but not before he had left 276 completed drawings and 676 unfinished drawings of plants, as well as hundreds of other drawings of animals, people and scenery.
Sir Joseph Banks later commissioned 18 master engravers to make copper plates of the drawings, with the intention of having them printed and published. But for the past 200 years the plates have been gathering dust in a cabinet in the British Museum.
In the mid-1960s, British scientists decided to resurrect the plates. This was no easy task, considering that the plates had been wrapped for 200 years in acid-laden paper and the acid had eaten minuscule pockmarks into the copper.
It has taken 25 years, 180 people and millions of dollars to to produce the engravings and a limited edition of 100 sets of the prints. The colored prints were scrutinized meticulously for minute errors, and the rejection rate ran as high as 35 percent, says Cox.
Cox first became aware of the prints through C.J. Humphries, a British botanist and editor of the "Banks' Florilegium," as the collection of plates is called. Humphries has been in Provo this week to help launch the exhibit.
"There are many reasons to applaud the engravings," says Cox. "It is the preservation of some very fine art. It captures a time in history. And when it comes to using rain forest art to help preserve a rain forest, I think Cook and Banks would be very pleased."