Jon-Paul-Rodriguez-IUCN-Species-Survival-Commission-Podcast

Podcast: Jon Paul Rodríguez | IUCN Species Survival Commission

Jon Paul Rodríguez is an award-winning Venezuelan conservationist who wears many hats. As Co-Founder of local NGO Provita, he spearheaded work to nearly triple the number of Endangered Yellow-Shouldered Parrots in the wild, winning the Whitley Gold Award in 2019 in the process. More recently, he was elected as the first non-European and non-North American Chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature Species Survival Commission.

In this discussion we talk about Jon Paul’s career, the story of the Yellow-Shouldered Parrot and his vision for the next four years for the Species Survival Commission globally. We also discuss the importance of diversity in conservation, and he shares an inspiring answer to what single change might make the biggest difference on the planet.

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Audio Transcript 

Jon Paul

My name is Jon Paul Rodríguez. I am Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission. I’m also professor of ecology at the Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Investigation. We know it here by its Spanish acronym, IVIC. And I’m also the founder and current President of Provita, which is an NGO devoted to species and ecosystem conservation, among other things. But that’s sort of the origin – is all biodiversity conservation. We do education, research and action.

Nick  

So you’re a man that wears many hats. And thinking about where to start, I think Provita would be a really interesting place to actually start our career discussion actually around what you’ve achieved so far. Well, you set up, you co-founded Provita, a Venezuelan NGO looking to protect wildlife in your country around 30 years ago, is that right? Why did you choose to set up the NGO? What was the need that you saw?

Jon Paul

Yeah, that was it. So we were a group of students of Biology at the Venezuela Central University in Caracas. And we joined a group, one of these student organisations that focused on excursions and travelling around the country. And we went on some really fantastic trips. And there were like two camps within the organisation, the biologists and the computer scientists, for some reason, we were like the two biggest subgroups. And the computer scientists were interested in going out and, you know, camping and having trips and so on. And we started developing a small group of us an interest in doing a bit more, in trying to, you know, promote species conservation. At that time, we learned of the existence of the spectacled bear in Venezuela. We had never heard that there were bears in South America. And one of my colleagues one of the fellow students learned about it, shared the information and we did a bulletin board with spectacled bear information, you know have, it was just for us, like revealing very unique facts that were actual bears of the country. When we brought this information out to the group to try to, you know, encourage campaigning and doing different things, we didn’t see any interest really in them. So we said, you know, let’s go found Provita. We were 19 years old. I was 19. And I had some experience with the human rights groups. I had worked with Amnesty International as a volunteer in Venezuela; we had set up the Venezuelan section of Amnesty. And in that process, we had worked well we had used the statutes of Amnesty as a document that we consulted that we use and then we took that we modelled Provita on that institutional. And we were able to secure some initial support from the back then it was the New York’s Zoological Society that had an office in Caracas now it’s called the Wildlife Conservation Society. They funded our first projects, our first grants, our first posters, our first campaigns, our first offers, our first computer, our first card they did all the first over the years, you know, over a period of about a decade. And now, you know, my entire life has been connected to Provita the one way or the other or my professional life because as a student, although I didn’t do my research link to Provita I was always working on projects. You know, we published the we published the Red Book of Venezuela Fauna in 95, just shortly after I graduated from undergraduate, and during my first two years in graduate school, I spent a lot of time working on that book, and spend some time here back in Caracas researching for it. But you know, every step of the way there’s a connection between my research, my work in Provita and then not you know, around the same time I became connected with IUCN with the Species Survival Commission. Back then I joined the Conservation Planning Specialist Group now it’s, that’s the current name used to be the Conservation Breeding Specialist group. And I was interested in population viability analysis just as a tool to explore conservation scenarios and we did our first PVA for the yellow shouldered parrot, which interestingly enough, you know that was, I can’t know that was 91 or 92 that we published that analysis. Our current management technique, the principles that we follow, to do our field implementation were based on that analysis, were based on what intervention appeared to be according to the models, the most effective way to put our effort.

Nick  

PVA is a Population Viability Analysis. Is that right? So yeah, how many individuals within the population are needed for it to be viable and for it to thrive? How was the yellow shouldered parrot doing back in 1990-91?

Jon Paul

Well that’s another connection with New York’s Zoological Society. So at that point in the late 80s this man who was here in Venezuela Stuart Strahl. He led the office here. Stu was interested in parrots. He was interested in birds that breed in colonies or birds that have kind of social behaviour that was this kind of interest in scientific interest. So he started promoting this idea of conserving parrots in general and he had a student who came over Kirsten Silvius. I think she was, I can’t remember, which University she was in maybe Gainesville, but I’m not sure about that. And Kirsten, hired, the other co founder, Franklin Rojas, as her field assistant to work in Margarita. He was an undergraduate student then and because they had seen that the population was very low, there was a lot of poaching Kirsten’s work and Franklin’s work at that time, estimated about 600- 650 yellow shouldered parrots in the field and a fairly intense market for pets, mainly they, fledglings are taken from the nest, and then they are sold as pets, mostly domestic market.

Nick  

It’s not because they’re a particularly beautiful species. It’s hard on the podcast to kind of show an image. Could you describe what they look like? 

Jon Paul

Yeah, the yellow shouldered parrots are these classical green parrots. You know, they’re smaller than a macaw. So they maybe, you know, maybe 18 inches in height, maybe a little bit less. They’re not very big. You know, maybe I’m exaggerating, maybe less than 18 inches. They are very sociable. They talk and they, in fact, in Margarita island where we work in the Caribbean coast of Venezuela people don’t see them as birds, they see them as family members. They very rapidly integrate into the family. The girls, the young girls refer to them as sisters. And the boys refer to them as parrots. That’s a kind of a gender difference in how children relate to them. Well, the children don’t refer to them as parrots. They refer to them as Maria, Maria the parrot. They’re all called Maria. That’s kind of the name for captive parrot in that area. So Maria is what the boys call them, sister is what the girls call them. And because  that is a primarily is the main source of income is fishing and the men do the fishing and they get on boats and they go to the high seas for months at a time maybe three months for four months. So they leave the parrots with their partners, with the women as a companion. So they fulfil the role of the man, you know, some people probably think that they’re even better than men as companions. But, so it’s a very interesting, very complex, you know, sociological process. So we are just now you know, 30 years later, really trying to work with the social dimension a bit more actively. Until now, our focus has been protecting nests from poaching and making sure that, you know, a number of parrots fledged over a year and we have been very successful at that. I mean, their population is almost tripled since then. So it’s not quite triple but two and a half. So the project has worked. But there are about 1700 parrots in the wild and there are about 3000 in captivity on the island. So there’s still a very, very well established tradition to keep parrots and we are working. The project has shifted initially was very, very biological then it became a little bit more social. And now we’re focusing a lot more on behaviour change and those aspects. So it’s evolved over time, the skills of the team have changed over time. We have incorporated into the field team, previous poachers, so the poachers; we offer them a job as we call them eco-guardians. And so they now have employment with a secure income.

Nick  

Where does the income come from? How are you managing to, you know, employ and source the funds? 

Jon Paul

Yeah, well, we raise money like any other organisation by submitting grants to international donors. Most of our, all of our income is international at the moment. Over the years, there have been some national sources, but now they’re not available. And so yeah, we rely on grants. Luckily, the parrot project is well funded. We got last year sorry, last year, we were given the Whitley Fund for Nature Gold Award for that project and that keeps it’s great to be able to have this kind of continuous support for organisations like Whitley, and many others who’ve supported us over the years. And we have for at least a couple of years funding secure. So I think that’s, it’s a good place. 

Nick  

Yes, yeah. And it must have been a huge moment to receive the Whitley Gold Award last year. What difference did it make for you and also for the organisation?

Jon Paul

Well, the interesting thing is that we have been, so our first grant for Whitley, our first award was in 2003, also for this project. And then we’ve had a couple of continuation awards and now the Gold Award. So you know, for all the project’s the history recent history, the Whitley have been supporting it, but they’re, as I say, you know, there’s many other organisations you know World and Trust based in the UK have been strong allies, as well. And, you know, and others. The amazing thing about Whitley Award is that it’s not only a substantial amount of money to help us support the project, but most importantly is a huge increase in visibility. They work so well with the media, there’s so much interest of local news organisations like the BBC, for example. Once you get the BBC, you’ll get and everybody’s antennae you know interest. So it’s fantastic and they are very loyal to us. They have been over the years so not only the awards themselves, but they are constantly putting out tweets and different messages on social media. And they’re very careful to make sure that all of the partners, all of the winners over the years get continuous attention. And that’s, it’s super valuable to us and very helpful.

Nick  

And not everybody has a short video narrated by Sir David Attenborough about them, do they?

Jon Paul

No. We joke in Provita that we’re going to take the clip where he says Provita, Provita and then use that as our, like our phone ringing or, door bell having his voice say that.

Nick  

He’s quite something. Yeah. So I’m really interested like so the project’s been 30 years, you’ve nearly tripled the population, which is a huge success. And I’m sure you want to do more. You talked about you know, 3000 birds still in captivity and where you’d like to take things. It now seems that things are evolving to be more of a kind of social angle. What’s happening next with the yellow shouldered, you know, parrot project and where do you want to take things? What does the next 20-30 years look like?

Jon Paul

Yeah, what the big paradox is that so the last two years, we achieved the highest numbers of fledged parrots ever so, so we can say that we know how to do this. So we’ve got the technique. We’ve nailed it down. If you look at graphs of the success of the project over the years, the first you know, 10 years of years, the graph went up and down, up and down, up and down, up and down. So we have had good years and bad years. Now we’ve the last six years or five years, we’ve stabilised not all years are a 100% success, but we were up there in the 90s and more. But despite that, despite the project, you know, we do the nest poaching protection, we do all these things, everything great, despite that people still you know, we turn around, we don’t protect the nest, it’ll get poached. Certainly, the poachers are out there looking all the time. And it requires we don’t have to do, it’s not like African Rhino, poaching control where you have armed people shooting poachers, and it’s a much less dramatic process. It’s just guys out there by the nests, patrolling, walking around, and that keeps the poachers out. There is the sense of respect for each other’s territory. So that works. But despite that all the parrots get poached and people have in my home, and we have found we have a recent analysis done, which was very interesting that the higher the level of education in the population, the more likely they are to have parrots. And that, that totally blew us off. And we, you know, we try to look into it and think why that is. And the reason the explanation that we get from them is that the better educated people have received more information, the kind of information that we produce. They listen to the radio, they read the newspapers, they’re sort of part of the kind of status quo population. So they learn of all the challenges the parrot faces, and they learn about the effort that we’re making to protect them. But they also, as people who are, let’s say, they feel a bit more established socially, they feel that they have a responsibility to protect the parrot. And the way that they do it is by taking them home and making sure they’re safe. So paradoxically, our traditional approaches of you know, using the media, using the schools, in the end does not solve the problem. It does not really we have not we just now discovering that we are targeting our message in a way that does not achieve the objective that we want.

Nick  

So people want to protect them. They want to conserve them, but they’re just doing the wrong actions at the moment.

Jon Paul

Exactly. So they’re aware But their action is yes, I’ll take them. So they see people selling them and they think, Oh, no, they’re going to die if I don’t do something, so they take them and protect them.

Nick  

Right, that’s fuelling the trade a little bit. Yeah. 

Jon Paul

Right. So they don’t quite realise that by doing that they’re actually encouraging trade because they are creating the market. So they do it with good intention, but achieve the wrong kind of ecological objective. And those are things that we’re just now starting to learn. So I think over the next few years, we will certainly continue doing our nest protections. We have been working some more with private landowners. We have perfected artificial nest creations, so we know how to, we know how to make nests that the parrots really like. So we can put them anywhere you want. We can establish breeding colonies and places that are easier to to safeguard. So that requires, you know, walking miles and miles into the forest. So we’re finding ways to manipulate the environment that simplify the process of protecting them, and also take them into safer areas. So that’s happening now. And I think they will do more of that, that kind of hands on management. And that’s worked very well. And we use, you know, the natural habitat, we use this, the natural trees they belong, we just concentrated nests in places that make them easier for us to protect them. And the second thing we’re going to do much more now is really bring in kind of professional, social scientists into the picture we already have, we already started doing that. But things like for example, developing a questionnaire for interviews. You know, I can do it, but I don’t know how to do it, but I’ll do it anyway. That’s what we have done over the last 30 years. We just make up things. Yeah, when there are people who are perfectly well trained to do that. They should be the ones doing that. And we discovered that by integrating them we achieve much better understanding of what’s going on, and better guidance on what we should do next.

Nick  

I see and just a couple of quick thoughts from me then before we move on to hearing more about your your role as Chair as well at the Species Survival Commission. Do people breed these birds in captivity? Is that another source? And have you looked at even whether it’d be possible to ban trade locally or is that something just would be socially unacceptable? What are the other options?

Jon Paul 

Now we know nothing happen. They don’t breed them in captivity, it’s fairly hard. First of all, it’s  virtually impossible to tell males from females unless you put a little laparoscope inside them. So it’s not easy, it’s not straightforward to determine whether it’s a male or a female. They apparently seem to have fairly complex social processes to select partners. And I don’t think that so we know people who’ve been able to breed them in captivity who bring in a whole branch, you know, unnatural nested them, try for a long time until they get certain but it’s a lot cheaper to, to breed them again in the wild, and just harvest. The analysis that we did that I mentioned at the beginning, the population viability analysis in the 90s. And then we’ve done it a couple of times since then they all come up with the same result. The result is that you can harvest about 30 or 40% of the parrots and still achieve positive growth because they’re fairly productive. They’re long lived, they breed many times over the lifetime. So as long as you leave, you know, half or a bit more than half of the nests in place, the population will continue to grow in a stable. You know, it’ll stabilise at a lower maximum level but it will still stabilise. So we know that at least theoretically, it seems like a management kind of ranching wildlife ranching style management program of the species could be attempted, it would be biologically feasible. But we don’t have the legal framework for anything like that in Venezuela. So we have thought about this as an alternative to say, okay, well, let’s just initiate a pilot, commercial breeding program of parrots that uses the wild population as a stock and we manage it in a way that is so we are convinced that we could do it, but we have never attempted it. And I don’t anticipate that happening. But the interesting thing about the place and about the kind of like you said at the beginning, multiple hats that I wear is that it gives us an opportunity many, many of my students at ERIC have worked on their thesis in Margarita. So questions like these of alternatives, conservation interventions or other species they share the ecosystem with, or the status of their habitat, or you know, all kinds of different dimensions of conservation, more broadly define this, you know, environmentally just more general, we’ve been able to do the combination of Provita IVIC together. And that’s really fantastic for me, it’s almost impossible to determine where Provita begins and IVIC ends and IUCN comes in. It’s always, all together. And that’s, I think, a very stable, strong kind of triad of organisations. 

Nick  

Yeah. And I think that’s something that we see across the kind of conservation communities. It’s a very collaborative space, you know, people tend to work together, you have something immediately in common with someone else, which is you care passionately about the species you’re trying to save and you’re working towards the same goals. So, yeah, those edges can get blurred quite a lot and I guess kind of yeah, I guess moving from one organisation to another then let’s talk about your current chairmanship of the IUCN species survival commission. For people who don’t understand what it is and I’ll put myself in that in that trench as well, what is the Species Survival Commission? You know, what is it you’re seeking to do?

Jon Paul

Yeah, well, the IUCN is a very interesting organisation. IUCN is International Union for Conservation of Nature. It is the largest conservation organisation in the world. We are present in virtually every country. In fact, the membership of IUCN is about 168 countries of members and the membership of SSC, the Commission I’ll explain in a second, is 195 countries and territories. So we’re virtually we’re virtually everywhere. IUCN has three we call them the three pillars of IUCN. The three pillars are the members, the organisations that are the membership of the union and these members are conservation organisations, governmental organisations, indigenous people organisations, and private sector organisations in one single forum. So we all contribute an annual fee according to the size of the organisation, and the place that is located. So, you know, richer countries pay more than less rich countries and so on. But the really the beauty of it to me is that if you go to the world conservation Congress that happens once every four years, and you sit down at the assembly of members, you will see, you know, a small local organisation from a rural area sitting there on the same floor, as you know, the UK delegation, that is the 10s of people representing all kinds of different interests. And both voices are virtually identical in terms of their impact. I mean the government delegations; their vote weighs more than the non government organisations. But there are only a maximum of 200 governments in the world and there’s a maximum infinite number of organisations. So it makes sense to have some kind of balance in terms of the weight of votes, but yet they are equally influential. So for us, in Provita we have often used, we have gone to IUCN to look for support for initiatives. And that’s really fantastic. You know, for an organisation like us to be able to have a global platform, global visibility to a theme of interest is really important and I think that attracts many people. So that’s one pillar. The second pillar is the Commissions and the Commissions are networks of experts distributed around the world. There are six Commissions they cover themes like education, environmental law, communication, social economic sciences, protected areas, ecosystem management. There are different themes, but the sixth one is the species survival commission. We are a total of about 16,000. All the members of the Commissions are about 16,000 members around the world. The SSC Species Survival Commission has about 10,000. It is very large, very interesting, very diverse. We have 164 groups within SSC mostly organised around taxonomy. So you know, specialist groups that have to do with different groups of animals, plants on fungi. And some are disciplinary, like climate change, conservation, breeding invasive species. And now we’re starting to think about a new kind of grouping that is geographical. So allowing people to organise according to a country for example. The work that they do all of these members of SSC is structured around what we call the species conservation cycle. And the species conservation cycle has three stages- assessment, planning and action in a continuous in a cycle. So we begin the assessment by documenting trends and species or ecosystems, and the change in you know, all kinds of scientific, not only scientific but knowledge based evaluations that leads to plans that synthesise that information and identify the primary priorities and funding needs and different, you know, guiding what to do. And then we act, the third one, and hopefully, that action leads to an improvement of the status of the species. So when you come back to the assessment, again, you find that the species is doing better, and you can either lower the category or whatever. So, members continue along that cycle indefinitely. You’re doing different things. And we are now realising over the years, that although most of our assessments of the status of biodiversity are global, you know, at the global level, the global extinction risk of species for example, most of the actions happen locally at the level of nations or even less than nations. So we’re starting to think now of how to take this assessment, turning an action into the national level. And I think that for the next four years, my current term ends now this year, the current my first term as Chair, I have the option to be elected for a second term. So if that all happens, as it looks like you’ll be the only candidate so far, it would mean that during the next four years, we’ll focus a lot more on taking the influence of the commission into the nation’s international law. And the third pillar, the third pillar of IUCN is the Secretariat is the professional staff. We have about 1000 staff in 50 countries that provide support to all the work that we do.

Nick  

I see, so looking forward about making things more country, more localised the focus going forward. Could you give an example of what that might look like let’s say in Venezuela, what would that mean for Venezuelan conservation in the next four years, just to bring it to light? 

Jon Paul 

The way that we envision this, we’re calling this initiative, it’s still primordial. We’re calling it reverse the red, reverse the red of the red list. And, you know, reverse the trends that the red list tell tell us about the status of bio diversities and we publishing reverse the red hubs, different countries, and these hubs will have so we think that one of our greatest resources is the network of specialists that belong to the SSC around the world. So for example, in Venezuela, we have about 70 members of commissions, more or less in the country, in about you know, more than half of them are SSC members. So this is you know, 30 or 40 of the top experts on all species already belonging to an organisation to an entity. So we want these to be the kind of an initial critical mass to organise the work that has to do with species conservation of the country. We envision these groups reaching out to allies, allies could be IUCN member organisations, could be the government, could be academics, and establish these hubs and with the hubs, then design, the kind of assessment at the national level. Depending on which country we are focusing on it might be that in some countries, the key partner is a zoo for example, in another country, that key partner might be Ministry of the Environment, by key partner mean the convening partner, the partner that brings the hub together. We’re working very closely with the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums with WAZA for them to engage. They already are very involved and they have accredited Zoos and Aquariums and dozens of countries. So they have infrastructure that coming together. We’re talking to our friends of the Smithsonian Institution to explore the possibility of building similar links with museums, natural history museums around the world who could also be these focal organisations. This is all in a very initial stages of development, it may change over time, but the concept is to try to develop a kind of bottom up organisation, recognising that all of these different partners are available, that in some cases, some partners might be stronger than others. So not creating a rigid, inflexible approach to developing these nodes, these hubs, but creating a set of tools and approaches and targets that brings us together and then letting them organise in a kind of informal decentralised self organised way, take it forward. So we envision the kind of maximum celebratory moment of this network to be Species Conservation Congress that happens every four years, like the World Parks Congress, like other similar efforts. And at these Congress’s countries can come and report the progress towards reversing the red using a set of standardised metrics that will all work together with. So we really see a huge potential to engage more with a network of experts, and have the influence much more what happens at the national level. At present, they all do that. But they do that outside of their work with SSC, they do it as a personal involvement. What you want to try to offer as a more systematic way for us to influence every part.

Nick  

It’s using what you’ve seen already effective within the network, the bright spots of activity, but helping to replicate it and sharing the success across many countries. 

Jon Paul 

Yeah, one thing that we think that, a weakness often of these global efforts is that they’re very expensive and very impossible to fund top down. So we couldn’t, we would have to mobilise hundreds of millions of dollars. But what is possible is to distribute the cost in a decentralised way. And in some cases, a zoo or an aquarium may be able to provide the space and a staff member, for example, to run the process locally. And that just that little bit of fuel usually makes all the difference between initiative that succeeds and the one that fails. 

Nick  

Yeah. Fascinating. You seem to enjoy your role as Chair. I mean, you’re looking for to be re-elected this year for another four years. Yeah. Why did you put your name in the hat originally and how have you found the role?

Jon Paul

Yeah, well, it’s interesting because I think you would say that I rose to the ranks in IUCN. So, my first exposure to this whole world was at the 96, the First World Conservation Congress in Montreal in Canada. We took a motion, we proposed a motion Provita to the Congress basically upset with the fact that the information that was being captured by National Red List processes was not finding its way to the global Red List. One would expect if a species that is endemic to a country is assessed nationally, the category that it has as extinction risk category should be the same whether it is evaluated globally or nationally because it is endemic to the country. And we found that was not the case. And what we realised we propose then was that the problem was when we were talking about now, there’s a disconnect between the global reach of specialist groups and geographically defined reach of national red lists. So it’s different experts working on them. And they have different perspectives. There’s not much communication. So we complained about this. And when we arrived at the Congress, there was a contact group being established, led by by Georgina Mason and Simon Stewart, two very influential people in IUCN, and they said, okay, you’re unhappy with us join the working group with us join the contact group, and then I was hooked.

Nick  

They drew you in.

Jon Paul

 And then Georgina led a lot of work on Red List, research and the Red List categories and the National list. She found me the first grant for us to work on the National Register working group under David Brackett which was a previous Chair of SSC then I kept working with them. And then, Simon Stewart was elected Chair of SSC 12 years ago. And I went from, you know, from complaining to chairing the national redness working group. And then Simon asked me to join as Deputy Chair of the Commission. So I spent eight years as Deputy Chair and then he said to me about halfway through the second term. So it’s, you know, it’s only natural that you put your name forward. And I I don’t really think that I have thought about it much, I assume. I don’t know it. I don’t think that it was something that I was planning on doing. I don’t think so. But once he mentioned that, it became very obvious that you know, it was only expected by everybody in the community, but also it seemed like, you know, I’ve been training for it for 20 years, so I might as well, you know, give it a shot. And yeah, I really enjoy it. It was you know, was my first term, it was not uncontested, I had an adversary and it was, you know, all those processes are exhausting and complicated. There’s a lot of unpleasantness about them in different moments. But, you know, the memberships responded very favourably they, I won by a large margin. And that was very, you know, a strong mandate to feel that the union really liked what I was proposing. And my platform was all about increasing participation and visibility and engagement at the national level and, and diversity of the leadership and different things. And those issues resonated and we focused on them a lot over the first four years. And now we get to consolidate them over the next four. My first term, there was a lot of work on organising the commission and trying to standardise, the way that we report, we plan, you know, developing strategic plans, all specialist groups did it in different ways, some very effectively and some less. So we’re trying to make that uniform. And, you know, it’s hard with a network that is all volunteers, and it’s all tops, experts that are already very busy. So we’re asking them to add, you know, time to the non existing time. But I think that in the end, we have, we were able to mobilise some resources to implement their own plans. So we demonstrated that by planning, they helped us get the money that could help them develop the plans and this kind of positive feedback became very valuable. So now the next four years, we’re going to try to roll it out. You know, as much as we can at the national level and really influence action and you know if I can say by the end of the eight years, that there are five species in the world that are doing better than they were when we started I think I’ll be happy with that.

Nick

That’ll be a great success. Yeah. And I am fascinated something you mentioned there as well about diversity within conservation and interestingly you are the first non European, non North American Chair of the Commission, that’s right of the SSC particularly, thank you. Why is diversity important in conservation? Why was that part of your mandate?

Jon Paul

That’s very interesting because you know there are so many subtleties in the way that people see the world. Sometime you feel that it’s kind of naive to say things like knowing the local ways is important but it really is important. If we sit down with people of diverse history, experience, institutional context, all kinds of things, when you get them together, you come up with solutions that are totally different than when you limit yourselves to small groups. So the SSC leadership if you look at the map is very heavily European, North American and some Australian growing groups in India, maybe Brazil but mostly the UK is a big centre of our intellectual leadership. And when I say to someone, some of my colleagues you know I need to locate a Cameroonian dragonfly expert I will often hear no they don’t exist and I say to them you know I don’t believe you. Of course they exist, you just don’t know them. We reach out in a one degree of separation, two degrees of separation and we need to really really get serious about this. So I think for us we have to improve our gender balance, we have to improve our age balance; we have to improve our geographic representation. We also have to improve  our disciplinary diversity because like I was saying earlier having a bunch of biologists planning a marketing campaign is useless. I mean we don’t know how to do marketing and yet it is very important that we do marketing and our message so we have to recognise that within our Specialists groups and bring in some of that expertise that goes beyond pure science. There is a lot of traditional knowledge that’s extremely valuable in terms of resource management and so there are things that we just need to find ways to better incorporate and so far we are very western science based organisation. It is changing and I think there is s very important role for western science absolutely in conservation and informing policies and decisions but I think that we have to recognise that different world views are out there and sometime coming with the recipe that we developed in Cambridge is not going to be applicable everywhere so we have to not feel frustrated because of that but rather embrace it and try to assure that we contribute with what we have but we also let others contribute as well. 

Nick  

Yeah that’s really fascinating and it’s I mentioned it actually before we hit record but we are lucky to increase our diversity within Conservation Careers and we had this ambition of speaking to a conservationist from every country in the world and having interviews like this and we are looking to keep going, keep listening. It’s really important. Switching gears again then to careers advice, there are lots of people listening to this podcast you know because they want to get careers advice, they are looking to start their career at university job seeking or maybe they are kind of switching careers from something different into conservation. What do you think are kind of the key things for people to bear in mind? What makes a big difference when someone tries to secure their first job or you know get their careers going?

Jon Paul

You know I always think about my, when I was about to enter university as a biology student my mother made sure that I spoke to others who were in the field and she was a bit sort of. My sister and I were always very free to choose what we wanted to do. She ended up being a sociologist I ended up being a biologist so we didn’t pursue the kind of profitable paths. My father was an economist and he was definitely the source of sustenance. My mother is a comparative literature professor so we all depended on my father’s success to keep us going. So she wanted to make sure I was choosing right. So I spoke to a few people and I heard all kinds of things. I heard from the people saying just do something better with your life, be an economist like your dad. Biologist they said that to me until I met one guy, Hernán Castellanos was his name. He was working on a skin of a monkey for a museum specimen that he was. So we were sitting there at the museum talking and he said to me do you want to be a biologist? Is that where you see yourself be? And I said yes. He said, well, do it. Just do it. There is no rational way to do this. You cannot make a matrix of pros and cons. You want to do it, you do it. And I have a young daughter now who is about to enter the last year of high school and what I said to her is you know if you don’t see your exact future path, start doing things, you can always change your mind, you can always change your mind, you can always redefine your life there’s no need to have your destiny planned from junior year of high school you can easily make mistakes and I think that’s what I would say to people. Think there is a rational way to choose your career. Provita in my case was founded in my second year of university and it completely changed my life and I have never thought of that, I was thinking of being Jacques Cousteau kind of person who would be in a research vessel under the iceberg or something like that. I mean that’s what I visualised as myself when I started university and I ended up being a cheerleader of conservation professionals and I think that have some direction. The only thing I would say be always the best you can be. Don’t take half solutions I don’t know what the word is in English but be always the best and that includes striving for being the best in the class. Those things might sound superficial but they make a big difference, they give you self esteem, they help you strengthen your path forward. Don’t do things with half strength half interest just give it all and that really makes a difference. And be too worried about having a clear path to the future. Life will work it out for you. 

Nick

Yeah that’s great advice. Explore, enjoy and be open to change. Yeah that’s fantastic advice. Thank you. Just looking at time also as we sort of wrap the podcast I am interested to just ask you some open question to kind of hear your thoughts on couple of questions too so. 

Jon Paul

Sure

Nick

In conservation we are seeing still a dramatic loss of biodiversity across the globe yet we are having some great wins. We are seeing species like Yellow-Shouldered Parrots and oothers doing well and others but still when we look across the broad picture nature is still having a really tough time. What do you thinks conservationists need to be better at or doing more of to have more impact and tackle more losses?

Jon Paul

What I think is that exactly we have to do more of it. So, we know how to do conservation, there are lots of examples of species that have been saved, species that were in extremely dire conditions like you know the Mauritian kestrel, down to four individual of a species – now its up to hundreds – and there are lots of examples like that in Mauritius there are several examples of species who have been brought back from the brink. The lord house stick insect down to you know handful of individuals now there are thousands of different zoos around the world. So we know how to do conservation, there is much more invested in destroying nature, so many more resources than on saving nature that we just have to do more of it. I think that making sure that we know and we understand that we have the answer that it’s not that we have to invent anything that is new. It’s not that we have failed. There’s a lot fewer of us in conservation than on the other side that I think we just have to insist, go with a positive message, insist that we have the tools, knowledge, the experience, we just need to do more of it. If we can mobilise resources around the world, we can mobilise the governments, we can get people to recognise and accept that it is within their reach, within their possibility then I think we have a much better chance to succeed.

Nick

Right. Really we need to mobilise more action and grow the movement which means more results I guess beyond that. And then final question, if you could change one thing, a new decree, a new law, made you a global tzar for the day, something that’s going to have a big impact on the environment, make a big positive change for the planet, what single thing might you seek to enact?

Jon Paul

I think that what I would force people to do is go away from where they live for 6 months anywhere. You know go away, go far away the most remote place you can imagine, the most different to you that you can imagine and live there for 6 months. Impose an eye opening policy to the planet because I think that it is so important for people to know that there is more than what they know and it’s so common that people’s actions are limited by their ignorance of what is possible and what is needed but I think you know forcing us to be more universal certainly has been key in my life to have kind of international exposure, its changed the way they do things here and anywhere else and I think that the key. It’s really the most important thing.

Nick

That’s great. One of the full things to do with your life as well I would think too. It’s great advice. Thank you. Jon Paul it’s been really nice talking to you and getting to know you a little bit. Thank you for sharing your precious time with us. If people need to find a little bit more about you and your many aspects of your work, Provita, IUCN SSC or others, where should we send them? How can they connect and follow you?

Jon Paul

You can search for Provita on social media or any of them: Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. Just type Provita and you will find it there and we have a very active social media and it’s very easy to communicate with me through it.

Nick

Fabulous. Well, thank you once again. You have had so much success already I wish plenty more into the future.

Okay, well I hope you enjoyed that everyone. If you did, then please do hit that subscribe button to get notified when new episodes are live and also give us a rating as it really helps us to get in front of more people. If you enjoy the interviews, we’ve collected the best advice from over 400 professional conservationists into a free ebook which you can download from the bottom of our website. And finally, if you’ve got any questions or suggestions for the podcast, please tweet them to @ConservCareers. I would love to hear from you. Okay, until next time guys, this is Nick signing out.  

Career Stories, Careers Advice, Podcast

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