Bird ringing in Costa Rica with Pablo Elizondo
Pablo Elizondo partners up with local communities to protect endemic species in Costa Rica. Conservation Careers Blogger and former Costa Rica Bird Observatories volunteer Stella Diamant speaks with Pablo about his daily work, the importance of reaching out to local people and why budding conservationists should not give up.
What is CRBO?
CRBO stands for Costa Rica Bird Observatories, a nationwide monitoring initiative created in partnership between the US Forest Service, the National Institute of Biodiversity of Costa Rica (INBio) and the Klamath Bird Observatory.
CRBO thrives to generate scientific information that can be readily used to inform conservation. Here at CRBO, we have been monitoring birds since 1994, operating about 30 stations together with our partners. As a result, we have been gathering a considerable amount of high-quality data about individual birds and species distribution in specific hotspots.
Our goal is that through our work we can inform and promote the conservation of resident and migratory birds. We also focus heavily on education and outreach, mostly through our weekly TV show that serves as a nationwide window to promote conservation and awareness.
What is your job title and what is it like on a day-to-day basis?
I am the Executive Director at the Costa Rica Bird Observatories.
My job involves ringing birds to better understand their annual cycles, as well as gathering survivorship and abundance data. I also interpret scientific results and translate them into conservation measures for birds. As our data is collected by volunteers and interns, I must find suitable candidates and subsequently train them. I also have to prepare data for analysis, help with the latter and eventually communicate our findings to the public.
On a daily basis I supervise our operations in Costa Rica, and I must ensure that both funding and logistics are on track. I am also in charge of the science and conservation programs here in Costa Rica, and I have to divide my time between office work and fieldwork.
While I mostly analyse date in the office, when out in the field I visit our field stations and gather data on both resident and migratory birds. I also spend time interacting with local communities, and talking to land managers in order to protect critical habitats for birds.
What do you most enjoy about your role at CRBO, and are there are any negative sides?
I really enjoy my work, it’s a dream job!
One of the things I most enjoy witnessing is the power of adaptation in humans, how they are capable of changing their perception about conservation. Out of nowhere they come to you and say “Listen, I really think we should save this ecosystem, birds are important”.
Also, as a scientist I am driven by my passion to describe, discover and explore. I thoroughly enjoy finding the answer to complex questions generated by observations, and to be able to communicate these very results to the public.
I don’t think my position has specific down sides. Nevertheless, like in any field, it always remains a challenge to find funding and have spare time. I really believe time is perhaps the most valuable resource in the planet.
Why do you work in conservation?
Because this is my way of saving the planet, in my case one bird at a time.
Birds are perhaps one of the best biological indicators of the quality of ecosystems; if birds are happy, humans are probably doing well. I work in conservation because I want a better planet, a planet that we can all enjoy responsibly.
What are you most proud of achieving through your work?
When I joined the organization, CRBO was only working in Tortuguero, a biodiverse hotspot on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.
I was able to expand our operations countrywide and share our work with the local communities. I think this has been my biggest contribution so far, to bring the science to the people and use it to inform conservation.
I feel really excited about our recent conservation efforts up in the highlands of the Cerro de la Muerte, Costa Rica’s highest region where many endemic birds are found. We managed to ensure the conservation of critical ecosystems, through the establishment of natural reserves and cooperation with local communities.
What key steps have you taken in your conservation career?
The most important and perhaps most valuable step has been to partner up with great minds.
You can achieve a lot more if you are inclusive and invite people with similar goals to join your efforts. I am constantly looking to establish partnerships with scientists, NGOs, the government and the private sector. To me, conservation is not only about money, its mostly about having the right people supporting your ideas.
What advice would you offer to someone wanting to follow your footsteps?
Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and join people with the same ideas.
Never think that conservation is not possible and don’t even consider that we cannot save the planet. Conservation requires collective actions, but those can only be reached by individual changes. There is someone out there willing to collaborate with you and your dreams, you need to be at the right place at the right time. Stay flexible and adaptable, isn’t it part of evolution?
What is your favorite song?
It changes constantly, right now: Verde más allá, Jenny and the Mexicats.
Fancy working with Pablo, improving your Spanish and learning more about Costa Rican birds? Pablo offers bird ringing internships based in Costa Rica throughout the year. Find more on www.costaricabird.org.
About the author
Stella obtained her MSc in Ecology, Evolution & Conservation at Imperial College London, then worked on various projects, such as the Tsaobis Baboon Project in Namibia. She has a passion for community-based conservation and is currently working with The Ocean Cleanup Foundation hoping to acquire the skills required to set up her own conservation project in the future.