Latina Leadership in Guatemalan Animal Sanctuary

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In Guatemala City there’s an animal sanctuary that helps restore injured individuals and populations, and also helps establish the re-release of native species. The sanctuary, named Asociación de Rescate y Conservación de la Vida Silvestre (ARCAS), began as the small Mayan Biosphere Reserve in 1989, but in 1995, expanded into Petén, Guatemala, and Hawaii. ARCAS was founded by a group of Guatemalan citizens, who worked alongside other organizations. While alliances have changed, volunteers have always made up the bulk of the team. Today, we can recognize the efforts of three Latina workers for the success of ARCAS.

Miriam Monterroso, the sister of ARCAS founder Tulio Monterroso, is the current Executive Director of the sanctuary. She took power of the Board of Directors in 1994, after a US NGO affiliate was revealed to be corrupt, causing the reputation of ARCAS to fall, along with economic support. Monterroso, however, was able to turn that setback around, and make the organization stronger. She partnered up with CONAP (Consejo Nacional de Àreas Protegidas, or National Protected Area Council), SIGAP (Sistema Nacional de Àreas Protegidas, or National System of Protected Areas),  San Carlos University, the Human Society International (HSI), and the ZACC (Zoos and Aquariums Committing to Conservation) accredited Columbus Zoo; each of which have helped to establish wildlife research, protection programs, or seminars. In fact, Monterosso herself has lead seminars, such as the 2010 Mangrove Seminar and 2012 ARCAS annual strategic planning seminar. She has also met with representatives across nations, such as Councilman Shinchi Kitajima of Jeju, Korea, for worldwide support. Within ARCAS itself, she has been able to expand the sanctuary into other locations, covering a larger variety of animals available for rescue. Monterosso’s latest project involves the proposed Guatemalan Animal Welfare Law. Currently, Guatemalans cannot report acts of animal cruelty. Implementation of the proposed law would set guidelines for the care of domestic pets, livestock, and even wildlife.

Another current project of ARCAS is the 2016 project to conserve the Yellow-naped Amazon, a species of parrot vulnerable to habitat loss through deforestation. Guatemalan biologist Christina Arravillaga was contracted to lead project. Some of her approaches include training local researchers on monitoring parrot data and establishing education activities at six sites. The project is considered to be a permanent program.

Lucia Garcia, the Director of ARCAS Hawaii, has also implemented programs to save a variety of species. To get to her role from her initial job as a freelance researcher, she faced obstacles like “gender inequality, lack of resources,” and “lack of enough staff.” However, she is now content with her position, claiming that it is more of a “daily passion” than job.

“I feel I have impacted wildlife population; my work here has been with the community in education and in community development. I am sure they (local children) are more conscious about their resources and will take care of (them). At the end, they are the future,” Garcia explains.

As of today, she is working on “policies and laws with the community, master plan of the marine protected area, implement(ation) of a system of trash…tourism, environmental education, migration research with the University of Naples, crawl count data with Telemark University, (and) animal rescue.” Definitely a full, but heroic schedule!

“In Guatemala, gender inequality is one of our greates(t) problem(a)s.” Lucia Garcia confesses. However, at ARCAS “we try to be a place where women have the same opportunities as men. We give equal salaries, we encourage and empower teenagers and girls to get involve(d) with (the) environment, in a way that betters their way of life.”

Considering the leadership and program coordination positions that women take in ARCAS, along with all those who support through volunteering, it can be easily seen that without allowing women in the workplace, ARCAS wouldn’t be as successful. The success of the sanctuary is important to the research and conservation of some of the world’s species, who each play a key role in the preservation of their beautiful environments and our beautiful Earth. Every individual’s contribution counts, no matter who you are, or how much you can achieve. According to Garcia, “there are going to be difficult moments, but have with yourself people that you can trust and that trust you… that will make the difficulties weaker.”

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