Member Spotlight: Brigitte Preciado-Salas

Brigitte is conducting a research project on the perception, use and local conservation of the Crocodylus intermedius in the Cravo Norte, Ele, and Lipa (Arauca) rivers complez in Colombia. This area has the largest Colombian population of the critically endangered Orinoco crocodile. Her results are expected to complement the review of the National Conservation Program of the Orinoco crocodile and to be useful to decision makers for the elaboration of future conservation plans and actions. 

Brigitte is also one of SCB's 2017 Graduate Student Research Fellowship award winners. This award supports field work, including travel, materials or equipment, required to conduct research by graduate student members.

It is thanks to our members that SCB can support students doing such important work to advance the science and practice of conserving Earth's biodiversity. 

SCB held a Q&A with Brigitte to learn more about her research with Orinoco crocodiles! 

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Brigitte Preciado-Salas, I am 35 years old and I live in Bogotá, Colombia. I'm an Environmental Biologist. I live in a farm on the outside of the capital with my husband Mario Londoño, who is also a biologist, my 6 year old son Joaquin, our dog “Huellas” and our cows “Melaza” and “Araucana”.

As a family we try to be consistent with what we think, say and do for this reason we decided to start acting! We consume responsibly, we prefer organic certified food, good production practices and the foods from farmers in the region. In the same way, our house was built with the intention of counteracting our carbon footprint, that’s why the materials we use are eco friendly. We also have solar heater and induction technology, which ensures that the consumption of electricity is minimal.

What have been your biggest challenges in this research project?

The biggest challenge I have presented in this investigation was to include my son and my husband into this journey to Arauca, especially my son, since we were very anxious and very uncertain about Joaquin’s reaction in the field. So, the challenge was to conquer and demonstrate the beauty of this profession to our son. Access to the area was another challenge, because Arauca is an area that still has groups outside the Law, which is why it is these groups that allow entering or not entering the area.

What is your favorite part about conducting your research here?

What I like the most about doing my research in this region of Colombia is being able to be in contact with the “llanera” culture, its cattle work and songs that are considered Intangible Cultural Heritage of humanity, the beauty of landscapes ranging from “morichales”, savannahs, galleries forests that refuge diversity of species, such as monos aulladores (Alouatta seniculus) which from the dawn shake the forests with their howls, and the "tigre mariposo" (jaguar) (Panthera onca) that at nightfall roars, shuddering our bodies that rest in a chinchorro (hammock).

What surprised you the most?

What surprised me the most was observing the great diversity of birds present in the region, such as martin pescador, garzas, Arauco. It is amazing to see them by flocks on the beaches of the rivers. And best of all, observe and photograph the “caimán llanero” (alligator) in its natural state. Amazing!!!!

What does a typical research/work day look like for you here?

A typical day of research consists in arriving in a canoe accompanied by my husband, my son, the “baquiano” (Nain) and another biologist (Luis Anzola) to each of the farms that are on the banks of the Cravo Norte, Ele and Lipa rivers. Among lemonade, coffe and a great lunch, which was offered with love by the comunity, we started a conversation with the villagers in which we know more about the caimán llanero; the use, the perception and conservation of the species. At sunset we put the hammocks under the Araucanian sky that gives us a picture of constellations, waiting for the sun to rise to continue our journey along the river.

What comes next? What do you hope this study results in?

What comes next is to support my research in the month of September, and to continue working with the community around the caimán llanero and other species such as the manati (Trichechus manatus), "tonina" (Inia geoffrensis), "perro de agua" (Pteronura brasiliensis), chigüiros (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris) in order to establish, with the community, a plan for local conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

What I hope to gain from this research is to have the necessary inputs, which are framed in the work done by the community and that have as objective to generate local conservation strategies for the alligator, and in this way to be presented to the different entities governmental and private organizations that work in the region so they have the context of the work of the community carried out in the habitat of the species.

Where could we find you on any given Saturday? What do you like to do for fun?

On Saturdays I share with my family at home, we usually go out to the yard and do work in the garden, the orchard or with the wood. Sometimes my son teaches us parcuore, we love learning from him! When we go out we go to the movies, eat ice cream and play machines.

What are three things you always carry with you when in the field?

  • Photographic camera
  • Cap
  • Notepad

Why did you decide to study conservation biology? What was your path that led you here?

I started studying my Master's Degree in Conservation and Use of Biodiversity at the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, in Bogotá. As part of the study program, I studied the subject Systems of Use, in which I carried out the final work on the caimán llanero, in the same way my previous job at the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, help me to realize the reality of management that was given to the alligator, which contributed to awaken my interest in the species.

I decided to focus my research from the framework of the communities that lives in the banks of the Cravo Norte, Ele and Lipa rivers and from the knowledge they had to be able to propose local conservation strategies.

What do you love most about what you do?

What I love most is being able to talk with the comunity, exchange experiences and work with them, know and visit one of the many beautiful regions that Colombia has and being able to show the importance of the caimán llanero as an emblematic species of the Llanos de Colombia.

How did you choose to do this research project in particular?

I chose to do the research in Caimán llanero due to my time in the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, in which I could have an approach to the management and monitoring of national conservation programs of different species in the country that are in danger of extinction. In addition to having studied the subject of systems of use of the expertise that I am doing.

When researching the species I found that Colombia has a complex of rivers in which there is a small sample of individuals, so I decided to do my research in this area and be able to inquire with the comuniy about what they believe, think and perceive about this species.