The EDGE of Existence programme invests in conservation at a grass-roots level by helping aspiring conservationists in developing countries to take the lead in researching and conserving their local EDGE species.
One of the most effective ways in which the EDGE of Existence programme is working to secure the future of EDGE species is by helping to build conservation capacity in regions in which they occur. This is achieved though awarding two-year Fellowships to future conservation leaders - EDGE Fellows - working on poorly-known EDGE species.
José Alfredo Hernández Díaz is one of our current EDGE Fellows. We find out how he is Working for Wildlife.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I was born in Puebla, Mexico. I have loved nature since I was a child. On vacation we always travelled to the coast in the Gulf of Mexico where we used to swim and watch marine wildlife.
When I started studying biology, I also decided to become a volunteer at the local zoo and that experience marked my life forever. As I was part of the environmental education department, I had the opportunity to be very close to the visitors and learn more about their relationship with nature. I found that most people were afraid of snakes and killed them. So I decided to found a small organization in the University to promote snake conservation by organizing talks and workshops using my own pets and some snakes we had at the University. That was my first approach to conservation.
Later in my career I started focusing more and more in amphibian conservation. Three years ago I started working at Africam Safari Zoo as Curator of Amphibians and Reptiles.
How did you hear about the Edge Fellowship?
As part of my job at Africam Safari I have an ex situ Conservation Project for the Large Crested Toad (Incilius cristatus), a critically endangered amphibian endemic to the cloud forests from Puebla and Veracruz in Mexico. I was invited to an Amphibian Husbandry Course for Latin America in Panama in 2013, there I met Diorene Smith, a Panamanian EDGE Fellow. Diorene told me about the Edge Fellowship Programme and the first thing I did when I came back to Mexico was checking the Edge Website. There I read all the information about the programme and checked the list of Edge amphibians finding Taylor’s Salamander, which is critically endangered. Curiously a few months before I had started thinking about working with the species because of the lack interest in Mexico about protecting it. So the Edge Fellowship was the perfect opportunity to do something for the salamander’s conservation.
Which animals or areas do you specialise in or work on?
The animals I work with are mainly amphibians and reptiles, but also some fish and invertebrates such as arachnids and ants.
What is the focus of your EDGE Fellowship and what made you want to study in your current field?
The project aims to fill the gaps of knowledge about Taylor’s salamander and address the main threats that the species is facing in order to develop and plan for its conservation. Among the main outputs that the project is seeking are: a study of the population size through a mark-recapture study; an analysis of the salamanders’ abundance and distribution within the lake; a study of infectious and parasitic diseases present in the population and the involvement of the community in activities for preserving the species and its habitat.
Taylor’s Salamander is a micro-endemic and critically endangered species, found only in Laguna Alchichica in Puebla State, central Mexico. This species has received almost no attention and no conservation actions have been taken to protect it before the EDGE programme.
What is the best thing about your job?
The best thing about my job is that I have the opportunity to work with the animals I love the most, in captivity and in the wild.
Have there been any particular highlights during your Fellowship so far?
I think the most remarkable things during my fellowship are the discoveries we have made about the salamander’s biology and behaviour.
Another very important highlight has been the excellent attitude that people from the community has shown towards the project. They are always willing to help and very supportive. They have participated in two clean up events that we have organized in the lake. In the last one, we collected about 200kg of rubbish.
The EDGE Fellowships are aimed at providing early-career conservationists, biologists and zoologists with the funding and mentoring to help them get a foothold in their sector. How important do you think the Fellowships are to support conservation, especially local conservation?
I think Fellowships give young people a great opportunity to make their conservation ideas and ambition reality. I think that fellowships are very important to support young conservationists.
You can also work for wildlife by becoming a Wildlife Champion - champion an area of our work and help ensure a future for wildlife.