jesus1  I am a biologist graduated at the Universidad Central de Venezuela. My research interests include natural history, ethology, and conservation. I have been working for several years studying the behavioral ecology and conservation of large tropical reptiles of the llanos of Venezuela (my homeland). Most of my experience has been with green iguanas and green anacondas, but I have also worked with other reptiles such as the Orinoco crocodile, spectacled caiman, and green sea turtles.  My current research is with anacondas; it was the topic of my dissertation at the University of Tennessee and is the topic of the book I am working on to come out next year. I obtained my Ph.D. at the Laboratory of Reptile Ethology under the direction of Dr. Gordon Burghardt


After graduation I taught a course of tropical ecology for Boston University for one year and then I worked making TV documentaries for National Geographic Television as a field correspondent during three years.  Working with TV is a fairly demanding activity and certainly takes a lot of time from scientific activities.  However, it gives me the opportunity of reaching a huge audience with the conservation message.  I do have a strong teaching vocation and often I am torn between the possibilities of teaching in a regular school where I would have the opportunity to teach in depth a small group of students or of doing films in which I can reach a huge audience albeit in a much more superficial manner.  I worked as at Somerset Community College for four years and I recently took a position at New Mexico Highlands University where I run the NMHU Ecology Lab and continue my research and teaching.  We do have a Master program and NMHU.  Students interested in working with me can contact me with a letter of interest. I am planning to teach a comprehensive program of Tropical Ecology Program that I have developed from my work with Boston University, the Organization for Tropical Studies, and the School for International Training.


Before getting into the career of biology I worked as a fireman for seven years at the Cuerpo de Bomberos Universitarios de Caracas. During this time I worked not only on emergency calls of all natures (Emergency Medicine, Save and Rescue, and Building and Forest fires being the most common) but also in education and instructing the community in dealing with emergencies.  Since the people from the community are the first ones to react to any emergency, we did substantial work in educating the community in effective emergency procedures.  The last year of my service in the fire department I was the Commander Chief of the station.  Then I was faced with a fireman carrier which would had demanded that I lived in a large city or finish my degree in biology and work with wildlife and nature.  It was a tough decision since my heart was equally split in both directions.  However, I considered that there would be always people willing to help and protect people, while the same cannot be said for the environment.  I resigned to my fireman carrier and went to the llanos to work with wildlife.


 My experience as a  fireman taught me things about conservation that I would have never learned in an academic setting.  It put me in contact with the harsh social reality of the large city and led  me further into my interest in nature and the study of the secret life of animals. It also taught me that the solutions to conservation problems, among other social issues, cannot be accomplished with shortsighted programs attempting to attack one or just a few dimensions of the whole problem. I am deeply concerned about habitat degradation and human activities that affect the well-being of other animals.  I believe that until we offer real solutions for people that live in rural areas to live in harmony with nature we will continue to sink in our current environmental crisis. I am a firm advocate for conservation education at both the early grades and at the college level.


I also believe that if we are to succeed in the campaign for habitat conservation it will not be by using a whole lot more of technology, but by using a little bit more of common sense.  We hear a lot about research projects that cost half a million dollars to assess the need to protect a piece of Ecuadorian cloud forest that would cost $100K to buy and protect in perpetuity.  To really address the issues we need to reach out beyond the boundaries of biology and science and adventure into the domains of things that most biologists no nothing about.  I am talking about economics, political as well as social issues.


In my opinion the only way to work  effectively in conservation is by working actively in education of the masses, guiding them to demand from their elected officials the right measures to protect the environment.   Of course, like any other conservationist, I find it disheartening that, while a few of us work trying to save a piece of the planet, there are so many interests trying to destroy it all.  Until we have a war-free world the is not much we can accomplish in the conservation arena.  Unfortunately the nations of the world do not seem to be heading in that direction for a long shot.  There is no path to peace; peace is the path.


 I find working in scientific research fascinating and a source of new challenges every day.  However, lately I am a bit turned off by the emphasis in many scientific trends to have ever close-minded approaches to understand nature and more and more reduccionistic interpretations.  Sometimes some scientific positions can be so extreme that they are nothing short of religious fundamentalism, often ignoring our own biases when we do science.  My preferred way to do science is by collecting original data in the field in wild animals and to look for new trends and new interpretations.


          In the long run, I plan on raising international conservation money to create a nature reserve in the llanos and other areas across South America. The goal will be to protect the land from timber industries, oil exploration, poaching and other forms of environmental degradation.   By setting up a tourist lodge where tourists can come and appreciate the beauty of the area while at the same time contributing to the conservation of the land.  This way I  plan on producing the money needed to create a research station , to be used not only for tropical studies but also much needed environmental education for both foreigners and locals in the different and highly diverse South American ecosystem. 


e-mail to Jesus A. Rivas

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