Growing up in Colombia, I spent my holidays going to the Amazon, snorkeling in the Pacific, hiking the Andes and fishing in the Orinoquia. At the time, these vacations seemed quite ordinary. I would see colorful butterflies flying along the banks of small tributaries of the Amazon, hear all sort of noises made by frogs at night and watch humpback whales migrating in the Pacific.
But I came to learn that this wasn’t normal and, in fact, I was privileged for not only living in one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, but for having amazing parents who loved nature and taught me about it and how to care for it. Therefore, when I had to decide what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, it seemed natural that I wanted to study biology. I wanted to keep traveling and learning about the beautiful world that surrounded me. At the time, it also seemed that all of this amazing biodiversity where I was born was normal and abundant and I only needed to learn about it, not necessarily work to protect it.
It took a bit of trial and error before I came to a different understanding—one that now shapes my work and my life.
As an undergrad student in Colombia, I had the opportunity to travel to pristine forests in the Amazon, Pacific and Orinoquia, but also to very degraded and fragmented forests in the Andes, where I fell in love with primates. My first research project centered on evaluating how natural geographic barriers shaped the genetic diversity of Brown Spider Monkeys in Colombia, one of the 25 most endangered primates in the world. I approached this question as a geneticist and evolutionary primatologist but left this project realizing that what I cared about, and what I wanted to learn more about—the monkeys and their habitat—were disappearing at an accelerated rate. I knew I needed to do something.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lina Valencia is a GWC associate conservation scientist. She is originally from Colombia, where she lived for 25 years before moving to the United States to start her PhD. She is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Texas at Austin. Valencia is interested in understanding how land use changes influence movement and dispersal patterns in primates to assist decision-making for conservation management of endangered species in Colombia.