In the last decade, many zoos have become interested in establishing international conservation programs, with the objective to assist or direct field studies that may have a major impact in the conservation of wild populations of species of interest, and their environment.2,4,6 Latin America, a biologically rich region, is the focus of many of these programs.
Latin America faces many wildlife, livestock, and human health challenges as well as unique religious, social and economic realities. There are many government and non-governmental agencies in each country involved in wildlife management, with the challenge of organizing reintroduction programs, rehabilitation centers, and in situ and ex situ management of threatened species. As well, local diagnostic capabilities for identification of diseases vary widely across the region.1,2 At the same time, an increasing number of conservation biologists in Latin America are seeking input from veterinarians regarding many aspects of wildlife populations health assessment, disease monitoring and management, and hands-on assistance in the capture, restraint, sample collection, laboratory analysis, biotelemetry and handling techniques of wild animals.2,4,5
It is here where wildlife veterinarians have a significant role to play within interdisciplinary teams working on conservation projects in Latin America. The challenge for veterinarians who wish to work in the region are to identify colleagues and programs with needs and establish truly collaborative relationships, to understand and correctly address cultural differences, and to comply with international permit requirements and policies. Integration of local expertise in the planning and implementation process is key to the success of the project and will reinforce the long-term conservation efforts in this region.
There are different ways of identifying and contacting scientists or agencies involved with the species, diseases or region of interest: one can contact the national and state universities, and view their publications; another is through wildlife agencies, many of which have documented the priority species in the region and (as is the case in Mexico) put together teams of local specialists in order to work as consultants in the policymaking for the recovery of that species or taxon (e.g., Programa de Recuperación de Especies Prioritarias www.gob.mx/semarnat) (VIN editor: the original link was modified on 1/29/21). Another way of approaching this is through the Conservation Breeding Specialist Group (CBSG), which has conducted several Conservation Assessment and Management Plans (CAMP) and Population and Habitat Viability Assessment (PHVA) workshops in Latin America, assembling nearly 40 regional experts (wildlife managers, IUCN Specialist Group members, representatives of the academic community or private sector, researches and captive managers) in each workshop to evaluate threat status of all taxa in a broad taxonomic group. The reports of the CAMPs and PHVAs which include contact information for the participants, are available via the web (www.cbsg.org) (VIN editor: the original link was modified on 1/29/21).
Projects must obtain permits for the capturing and sampling (Colecta Científica) of the species; a CITES permit for the movement of samples across international borders, and in some instances, an animal health permit, depending on disease issues in the region. You will need to contact the wildlife agency in the country (which is usually the CITES authority) to obtain permits. Pending any concerns regarding the project, the agencies usually issue permits within 15–30 days, and in many countries permits are good for 6 mo. In some instances, export permits can only be acquired in the host country when an exact count of the type and number of samples is known, so plan to spend some days in the capital city obtaining the official papers. Many countries have this information available via the web (e.g., www.gob.mx/semarnat) (VIN editor: the original link was modified on 1/29/21).
Some authorities will only accept paperwork in native language, will require a government biologist or ecologists to accompany you during the field trip, and will expect a complete report 15 days after the importation has occurred, with an official stamp from the last port of embarkation, so do no forget to pass the review point in the airports to get your permit stamped.
It is important to remember that many parts of Latin America are engaged in active campaigns to eradicate diseases of domestic animals, and therefore, within a country one can find many “borders” for limiting the spread of diseases. Having official letters from the institution you represent as well as the local institutions you will be working with, describing the nature of your work, the names of the participants and the equipment you are carrying will help you pass through the check points.
In developing countries, issues of poverty and rural development are intertwined with those of biodiversity conservation. Protected areas in Latin America are facing a whole host of problems such as emerging disease transmission, vulnerability of concentrated populations, natural and human disasters, etc. These facts are compelling reasons to increase the involvement of the veterinarian community in conservation efforts.4 Wildlife veterinarians can contribute in a significant manner to the planning and implementation of wildlife conservation projects.6 Remember that “what we know we have learned from others.” More and more institutions are investing in training foreign professionals: this has steadily increased the numbers of highly competent professionals dedicated to the discipline in Latin America.1,2,5,6
Foreign veterinarians can play an important role in wildlife conservation projects in Latin America as long as they are culturally sensitive. From the drinking of mate in Argentina, to the official siesta in Central America, each country has its own cultural traditions and idiosyncrasies, differences that should not be undervalued. Your performance as a person and scientist will have an impact on opportunities for other and future researchers and can open or close doors for them. Striving to establish collaborative relationships, instead of having an imposing approach can make the difference. Remember that such things as ownership of intellectual material or authorship in publications are handled differently in other countries, and if these issues are not addressed properly, the outcome for the project may not be good. Consider publishing your collaborative research in a regional journal, you would be surprised by the quality of the peer review.
Survive and enjoy your trip. Consult political and important disease matters maintaining a serious and not alarming point of view.3 Remember that learning as much as you can about the country you will be visiting can give you a broader understanding of the challenges you will face. Always keep an open mind to learn different ways of doing things. Move your boundaries and aim to participate effectively in in situ wildlife conservation projects in Latin America while you share and learn at the same time.
1. Aguilar, R.F., and D. Hilliard. 2000. Veterinary outreach: Coordinating technology transfer and professional training programs in Latin America. Proc. Am. Assoc. Zoo Vet. Annu. Meet. 401.
2. Aguilar, R.F., and C. Walzer. 2002. International conservation extension: How the rubber chicken circuit, training visiting professionals, and performing workshops abroad can help rob Peter to pay Paul. Proc. Am. Assoc. Zoo Vet. Annu. Meet. 260.
3. DeMaar T.W., and E.W. deMaar. 2000. Tropical Travel Survival for the Zoo/Wildlife Veterinarian. Proc. Am. Assoc. Zoo Vet. Annu. Meet. 408.
4. Hernandez-Divers S.M., and E.P. Medic. 2002. Veterinarians involved in non-traditional roles for conservation the first international tapir symposium. Proc. Am. Assoc. Zoo Vet. Annu. Meet. 254.
5. Uhart, M.M., S.L. Deem, R.A. Cook and W.B. Karesh. 2000. Wildlife health in Latin America conservation goals. Proc. Am. Assoc. Zoo Vet. Annu. Meet. 7.
6. Warren K., and C. Monaghan. 2004. Moving the boundaries enabling veterinary involvement in conservation through education. Proc. Am. Assoc. Zoo Vet. Annu. Meet. 408.