Finding motivation in conservation

In this open and honest contribution, primatologist and conservationist Xyomara Carretero Pinzon shares her highs and lows whilst working for wildlife conservation and how she keeps herself motivated to continue the work.

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Looking at the sunset at one of the farmhouses where I have been working for the past 16 years, I still wonder what is it that keeps me motivated to continue doing conservation, despite all the challenges and difficulties. My project, Zocay project (, is a long-term monitoring project of monkey populations in forest fragments at Colombian Llanos. Over more than a decade we have done small education activities with local kids and small management activities to increase connectivity between forest fragments in some farms.

Although with limited resources, these activities have started to show some benefits for the local wildlife, including monkeys. This probably wasn’t possible if I didn’t continue coming back to the same farms over the years. My project and permanence in the area wouldn’t be possible with the help of students, volunteers, interns and the local people, some of them who became friends and not only students or collaborators.

One of the things that motivates me to continue is to witness that resilience of monkeys living in close proximity to human activities. Additional to this my increased concern about the world we are leaving to the next generations also motivate me to continue. Although I don’t have kids and probably will never have them, I feel worried about the future of those kids born in recent years.

I can't deny that at some points, especially after long walks without finding any monkeys, I have sat to rest and ask myself why I’m still doing it. Probably it is because over the years I learned that a big part of my own wellbeing includes periodic visits to the field. It’s not only because I enjoy looking at monkeys and walking in the forest. It is also because of my curiosity to understand the natural world and the continuous flow of questions that my study area generates. Some of those questions don’t have answers yet and that also keeps me motivated to continue despite the limited resources the project has.

Also, from time to time I have the opportunity to bring kids to the forest on occasional visits and during those visits their natural curiosity and wonder for nature inspires me to continue helping those forest to survive as much as I can for them to enjoy in the future.

I can't deny that there are several times that I feel I don’t want to continue. A couple of years ago, and after a bad experience in academy while doing my first post-doc, I considered seriously to leave science completely. I was not only broken by the traumatic experience of bullying that I experience during my post-doc but also, I was disappointed in science and especially in academy. I came back to my country and visited again my field site in the Llanos; I wanted some of the balance that forest and monkeys gave me in the past. And it was there, looking at Colombian squirrel monkeys that I concluded that I will continue doing the part of science that makes me feel better and that usually give more satisfaction: fieldwork.

So, from then on what I have been doing is fieldwork, I continue with my work at a small scale of monitoring primates in forest fragments, helping undergraduate student to make their graduation work and training primatologists in the field. I still struggle with the publication of that field information that I still consider important to publish but at least now, I have accepted that my dream of becoming an academic is just a past dream.

Even in the darkest moments of my life, my motivation to continue working in science and doing conservation, even at a small scale, are the monkeys and their incredible resilience to survive in human transformed landscapes

Xyomara Carretero Pinzon

Director, Zocay Project

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Go to the profile of Thirza Loffeld
9 months ago

Hi Xyo, many thanks for your inspiring and honest words. I really appreciate that you shared with our community how you overcame the negative repercussions of working in a toxic culture of bullying at your previous workplace by re-connecting with your source of energy and satisfaction: field work. Your story highlights your resilience, how you positively adapted to the challenges you met along the way. It was also wonderful to read about the success of your Zocay Project! May I ask which benefits for the local wildlife you have observed so far? 

Hi Thirza, thank you for your words. The main benefits for wildlife is that we are now observing bird and mammal species that we did't observe 16 years ago. Althougth they were in the region, those species were not present in the farms were we were working when we started. And the monkeys are moving between fragments in a way they didn't used before thanks to more connectivity

Go to the profile of Thirza Loffeld
9 months ago

Wonderful to read Xyo - good to hear about such positive developments!