When the Critically Endangered Titicaca Water Frog began to decline precipitously, Arturo Muñoz and Claudia Cortez–winners of the 2015 Sabin Amphibian Conservation Prize–mobilized quickly, securing funding to bring frogs into a breeding facility. As the regional chairs for the Amphibian Specialist Group Bolivia, Muñoz and Cortez developed an effective conservation plan and successfully lobbied government support for their efforts. We caught up with Arturo for a Q&A about his love for wildlife and commitment to amphibians. (You can also read his full bio here)
Q. How did you develop your passion for wildlife?
A. I have been passionate about wildlife since I was a kid because my parents always took me to the mountains and into the wild. I was constantly in contact with nature. I grew up surrounded by nature–my house itself was in the surroundings of the city where I was able to see nature everyday. This gave me a lot of curiosity to learn more about the amazing things in nature. I used to go out in the surroundings in search of the small insects, or any animal, and sometimes took them back home to try to keep them and learn about them. Sometimes I just went back home with some rocks or feathers that I gathered for my collection. When I decided to study biology I discovered even more of the amazing world of nature and wildlife. I was always fascinated by the small things that one can find in nature, sometimes spending weeks outside in the wild, choosing to travel to the forest for different projects instead of assisting at lectures in the university. Sometimes I even stay alone in my tent in the mountains or in the jungle, giving me the chance to witness the small details that nature is showing us all the time.
Q. What is your favorite part of working in the field?
A. I like to discover new aspects about nature, to understand the natural world. I get excited when I can find a small piece of nature’s huge puzzle. I like to be in contact with nature and to learn about it. It takes you out from these four walls that humans are used to being in, and exposes you to another completely different world. You can see the real scale of things, from the very small details that you can find in a couple of square centimeters where a spider lives, to the scale of the Amazon rain forest where you can see how a Jaguar lives. It’s amazing to be able to see the universe from another perspective, to lay down watching the stars at midnight at 4,000 meters in the Andes, to be in places barely touched by humanity. This is what you get to experience if you work with nature in the field.
Q. What is the most rewarding part of your job?
A. To be able to see things that normally you will not see if you are not in contact with nature, to be able to make a difference for nature conservation, and to see how more people care about the animals you are working with. When a small kid shares with his family or friends what he learned about frogs, shows how proud he is to know all of these things, and then watching the same kid hours later watching a small frog in a pond and describing to himself some of the things he learned a couple of hours ago–those are the moments that give you the strength to keep going.
Q. What do you love about amphibians in particular?
A. It is funny–when I was kid I was scared of amphibians. I was not able to touch them, they were slimy and cold. I remember when frogs accidentally fell down in my parents’ swimming pool and I had to take them out. I always used sticks to take them out, hoping that they would not jump to my hand. Amphibians came to me a little bit later when I started my career as a biology student. Thanks to one friend within this unique group with a completely different perspective, I got to know amphibians, to understand they are a unique group that is not well known. So many people think like I used to, that amphibians are slimy, cold, not nice, maybe that they even kill people because they think they are disgusting or they bring bad luck. Amphibians look like a very fragile group of animals that is not so interesting. But they’re so diverse. Some of them have extreme adaptations and unique behaviors to be able to survive in hostile habitats; they have a huge diversity of colors, sizes, shapes; and implement various strategies to populate different ecosystems. They have an amazing diversity of calls–nothing compares to being in the middle of a frog chorus. Amphibians have a lot to teach us about the health of our environment, if there is a problem with pollution. They also have a huge potential of pharmaceutical uses that can be studied, and in some cases are already used. This is a unique group of vertebrates and there are a lot of organisms that depend of amphibians.
Q. What does this award mean to you?
A. This award made me think about all the conservationists out there doing the same as me, made me think about all the people that inspired me, people that supported me with all these ideas and work, all the people that worked and work with me. It reminds me how fortunate I am being able to work with my team back in Bolivia toward the same goals and the same dreams. This award reminds me how a small, and maybe crazy idea, can grow up into something. This award is not just confirmation that “yes, you are doing well,” but gives me the energy and the desire to keep going with my dream that future generations can enjoy the wildlife and nature we are enjoying now.
Q. Are you hopeful for the future of wildlife? Why or why not?
A. Working in wildlife conservation shows you different aspects about your work and the possible future of wildlife. Even though it can be difficult, I am hopeful for the future of wildlife. More and more you can see how people care about conservation, how people care more about these creatures than before they even know they existed. Now we can see how people who may even be scared of frogs are working together with you to try to save them from extinction. The battle is hard, but I have hope and think that everybody can make a difference–they just need to know how.
Q. Why should everyone care about saving wildlife?
A. Wildlife is an important part of our lives, even if we are not in direct contact. We cannot survive without wildlife. All our resources come from nature and almost all the things that surround us come from nature, which is one of the main reasons we should take care of wildlife. It we can’t go outside and enjoy wildlife, the planet will not be the same. If we love our family, if we care about our kids, we need to do something to try to save wildlife so our kids have the chance to see the things we do, to enjoy the things we do, to live the things that we do.