My name is María Copa Alvaro. I’m from Bolivia and I’ve been an EDGE Fellow studying the short-tailed chinchilla in Bolivia since early in 2010. Recently, I have had the opportunity to visit the UK and participate in the 2012 Student Conference on Conservation Science (SCCS) held in the Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge. My attendance was supported by the SCCS and enabled me to meet many young researchers and learn about their work contributing to the conservation of wildlife. As part of the conference, I also presented a poster on my work with short-tailed chinchilla and took part in a short course where I learnt the basic methods of Q-GIS, a geographical mapping software that can assist with finding animal populations. The opportunity was truly great in every respect!
The SCCS is also supporting me to do a four-week internship at ZSL, which is where I am at the moment. I’m working with EDGE Conservation Biologist Dr Craig Turner to conduct analysis on the data I have collected. What we’ve found so far is that there isn’t a clear relationship between the environmental variables that I have data on and the presence or absence of short-tailed chinchillas – all mountains over 4,000 metres above sea level appear to be potential habitat. The next stage is to look at these environmental variables at a finer level and see if at this level there is any correlation to past distributions of the chinchilla. This will help us know where to search for remnant populations in the future. Although the language barrier has meant that I sometimes struggle to express my ideas, the EDGE team has been committed to helping me achieve the goals of my internship and understanding my Spanish and English!
I’ve also spent two days at the Natural History Museum, where I saw and investigated the specimens of chinchilla that they hold which were collected in Bolivia at the beginning of the last century, and each week I participate in the EDGE team meeting, where each member of the EDGE team presents their progress and key issues are discussed. It was good to be involved with this and I was surprised by the wide variety and geographical spread of activities that are going on. I also had the opportunity to visit London Zoo and it was evident that the animals are very well looked after and that educating the public is a key priority. I am trying to educate the people of Bolivia about the short-tailed chinchilla so it was useful to see how the zoo achieves this.
As my two-year EDGE Fellowship is drawing to a close, I thought that my time with the chinchilla might be finished, but my experiences in Cambridge, at ZSL, and at the Natural History Museum have inspired me to continue the search for the short-tailed chinchilla!