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From veterinarian to conservationist: The start of my journey

By on November 1, 2012 in EDGE Fellows, EDGE Updates, Focal species, Mammals, Pygmy three-toed sloth, ZSL

Around half of the course participants on the EDGE Conservation Tools training course are from Kenya. The rest of the participants have travelled far and wide to be here. Diorene Smith Cabellos has come all the way from Panama (an island she shares with a very special EDGE species) to experience Africa for the very first time…






Me after arriving at KWS







It was the 21st of October when I boarded a plane heading for Kenya. I couldn’t believe it was actually happening!

I am a veterinarian from Panama and I work at Summit Municipal Park, a sanctuary for confiscated wild animals. Working with wildlife has always been my passion and it’s my goal to get more involved in other aspects of conservation. That’s why I have committed to doing something for the pygmy sloth, an endemic and endangered species in Panama. I want to make a permanent project in my country to protect this species. That’s the reason I’m in Kenya.

I couldn’t relax on the flight. I was thinking about the course. My expectations were high but I was worried about understanding everything in such a short space of time and in a language that isn’t native to me. I come from a medical background so my previous experience is quite different to that of others.

Me checking camera trap
Our camera trap team

The first two days were as I thought – intense! Nonetheless, the EDGE team is helping me to understand the concepts and principles being taught. There are also 12 other participants, from different countries around the world, and we help each other to understand. There’s a lot to cover, but that’s part of the challenge!

The highlights so far have been the practicals as here we get to put into action what we’ve been taught in the lectures. For the first time, I handled a compass and a GPS, and the experience was like a child with a new game! Little did I know that these tools would be invaluable the next day…

Completing a site habitat record

For the first field practical we went to Shimba Hills National Reserve. I was so excited that I could not sleep! My team and I made two transects (forming part of a grid) and deployed six cameras traps, one every 500m. It was an amazing experience and made what we’d learnt in class seem real. Getting to see giraffes, colobus monkeys and a leopard tortoise was a nice bonus too!

Going forward I feel a mixture of happiness, apprehension, and even frustration (mostly at trying to understand statistics!!!). I’m sure that by the end of the 4 weeks I will have much improved my conservation skills and that I will have the tools I need for my project.

The EDGE Conservation Tools training course forms part of the EDGE Fellowship programme – to learn more click HERE