“I spent many years longing to go to Africa, because of what that continent offered in its wilderness and great diversity of free-living animals. Finally I realized that dreams seldom materialize on their own...”
- Dian Fossey
When Jaguars Attack.
How I found myself underneath a 200lb jaguar in the middle of the Amazonian rain forest was the consequence of the first 23 years of my life. At the time, I had just finished my military service in the Israel Defense Forces, and I took off to explore the world, far away from home. With nothing more than a backpack and a dream, I traveled South America by foot, finally settling at a wildlife refuge nestled in the Bolivian Amazon. I spent several months as the caretaker of a 3-year-old female jaguar named Katie. Katie chose to test my confidence the first time I walked into her compound. Her stunning, perfectly tailored camouflage, a product of half a million years of evolution, made her blend perfectly with the lush vegetation around me; I had no idea how closely she was stalking me until I felt the full impact of 200lbs of pure muscle against my body.
The path I have chosen to take in life led me directly to where I stand today, with many bumps that helped shape the person I am now. When I was 14, I read an article in the National Geographic magazine about a wildcat refuge in South America, and nearly a decade later I accomplished my dream of reaching it. The road leading there included volunteering with animal welfare organizations and at a veterinary clinic and applying to pursue higher education in the field of biology. During that time, I faithfully followed the work of Dr. Jane Goodall, one of the world's leading women in science, and outspoken ambassador of wildlife conservation.
In 2012, I had the esteemed privilege of meeting Dr. Goodall, who offered her own advice and endorsed my ambition.
My life experiences jump-started my academic career and led me to pursue education in wildlife conservation. Following my adventures in South America, I earned a BS in Ecology, Animal Behavior and Evolution from the University of California, San Diego. For my MSc research, I collaborated with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research studying food-web interactions in threatened iguanas in the Dominican Republic. More recently, I was hired as a contractor for US Geological Survey (USGS), spearheading a project looking into bobcat prey preference in Southern California, and how it is affected by climate change. I am excited about this work, because I am utilizing stable isotope analysis, an uncommon approach to looking at predator-prey interactions. Along my work with USGS, I am currently in my first year of doctoral (PhD) research at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I study primate community ecology, focusing on how competition limits energy intake in several species of primates in Kibale National Park, Uganda. I aim to investigate how primates interact not only within their own species, but with many other animals in the forest, and what implications this has on conservation of declining species.
My faithful boots:
These hiking boots and I have walked thousands of miles over the past decade
- We traversed the Israeli Judaean desert during the last year of my military service (I used standard issued boots beforehand)
- We trekked through Patagonia and reached el Fin Del Mundo (the southern most tip of South America)
- We got drenched during tropical storms in the Amazon rain forest and had jaguar claws sunk into us
- We climbed Machu Picchu in Peru and stepped on young volcanic rock in the Galápagos Islands
- We summited an active volcano in Chile (and barely made it back down in one piece)
- We stepped in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres at the same time in Ecuador
- We got covered in fine red soil and slashed to bits by fossilized corral rocks in the Dominican Republic.
We've surveyed for burrowing owls, dug up rock iguana nests, observed vocalizing groups of howler monkeys, and stepped alongside jaguars, pumas and ocelots.
10 years. It's been one hell of a ride.