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Q&A with Dr. Cecília Kierulff (winner of the 2015 Sabin Primate Conservation Prize)

Thanks to Cecília Kierulff’s work capturing and translocating Golden-Lion Tamarins to better suited habitat in their natural range in the state of Rio de Janeiro, this flagship species has gone from an IUCN red list classification of critically endangered to endangered. When Kierulff conducted the first-ever population estimate for Golden-Lion Tamarin, she counted a mere 560 individuals—today the population stands at 3,200 individuals. We caught up with Cecília–winner of the 2015 Sabin Primate Conservation Prize–for a Q&A about her love for wildlife and commitment to primates. (You can also read her full bio here)

Q. How did you develop your passion for wildlife?
A. When I was a child I used to play with my dolls in the garden pretending that it was a jungle and they were the female version of Tarzan (never Jane). I used to think that there were many wild animals in “my jungle” and they were very friendly. TV movies and wildlife documentaries also reinforced that I was born to be in the forest doing research. I wanted to be a scientist before I knew what it really meant. I studied biology because I had never thought of myself in any other profession.

Q. What is your favorite part of working in the field?
A. I like to be in the field and investigate things–why and how things are the way they are. My favorite part of working in the field is to be in the forest or in any other natural area and to see wildlife being naturally wild in their own environment. I also love to work in a job with no routine. Each day is different and new things happen at every moment in the field.

(Photo by Andreia Martins)

Q. What is the most rewarding part of your job?
A. The most rewarding part of my job is to know that I have made a difference in the conservation of some species. I have helped to improve their situation saving the areas where they exist or populations that are endangered. The effort is huge but the reward makes it worth it. My work has also taken me to many wonderful places and I have met many very interesting people.

Q. What do you love about primates in particular?
A. I think first because I can observe them in the field, while many mammals are nocturnal and almost “invisible.” Second they are very clever and they challenge us all the time (how to find, follow and capture them). Third, many species are endangered and because there is not much of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest left,  many primate populations are endangered, and we must do something to help them.

A. What does this award mean to you?
Q. I have always worked very hard for the conservation of primates and I wasn’t expecting a prize! It was a wonderful surprise and it means recognition of my work and all my effort. I have never done things to receive prizes but it is very nice when we receive one; it has made me very proud!

(Photo by Luciano Candisani)

Q. Are you hopeful for the future of wildlife? Why or why not?
A. I have been very depressed with our world today and very pessimistic with the future of wildlife. Every day we listen to bad news about species extinctions and ecosystems that have been destroyed and the proportion of bad news is always higher than that of good news! We have more information but it is not helping. The people who have the power to decide are still more interested in how to have more money than in the environment, and they don’t understand that in the future the money will not help without a healthy environment. On the other hand, I have known so many people that are really interested in conservation and are doing such a good job to help species and the environment that maybe the future is not so bad for wildlife.

Q. Why should everyone care about saving wildlife?
A. First we have to save and preserve all wildlife for ethical and moral reasons; they have the right to live. Who are we to destroy all other species? Second we are part of this world (that it is not ours!) and our species (Homo sapiens) will not survive in a completely destroyed environment. Wildlife helps to maintain the environment where we live healthier. We are already seeing the disastrous consequences of our cavalier treatment of the environment and the destruction that results.

About the Author

Lindsay Renick Mayer

Lindsay Renick Mayer

Lindsay is the associate director of communications for Global Wildlife Conservation and has a particular interest in leveraging communications to inspire conservation action. Lindsay is passionate about species-based conservation and finding compelling ways to tell stories that demonstrate the value of all of the planet’s critters, big and microscopic.

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