Juliana Machado Ferreira
Conservation Biologist; 2014 Emerging Explorer
Photograph courtesy WILDLIFE GmbH/Alamy
Photograph courtesy Juliana Machado Ferreira
Conservation biologist Juliana Machado Ferreira fights illegal wildlife trafficking in Brazil using science, political articulation, professional training, and educational outreach to curb demand, strengthen laws, empower police, and build international partnerships. Every year, poachers take 38 million animals from natural habitats in Brazil to supply all kinds of illegal wildlife trade. The business brings in $2 billion a year. Machado Ferreira founded FREELAND Brasil to combat the thriving illegal trade, which she fights on many fronts. In Brazil, where keeping wild songbirds, parrots, and macaws is a widely embraced cultural norm, her organization educates the public about the devastating impact this can have on nature. She also helps police to identify, count, and provide triage care for birds seized during raids along with SOS Fauna. She holds a Ph.D. in genetics and has developed molecular markers that can aid in identifying the origins of birds seized by police and help return rehabilitated birds to the right spot in the wild.
Where were you born?
São Paulo, Brazil
Where do you currently live?
São Paulo, Brazil
How did you get started in your field of work?
Around the same time I found out about the work that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory does on wildlife forensics and the work that the organization SOS Fauna does combating wildlife trafficking in Brazil. I became so interested that I focused my Ph.D. research on developing population genetic studies for Brazilian wild bird species exploited by the illegal trade. And later I started FREELAND Brasil.
I love what I do because I believe it is meaningful, it allows me to work in different fronts (research, fieldwork, on the ground raids, rehabilitation and release, political articulation, awareness), and because not only am I passionate about animal welfare, but I am even more passionate about biodiversity conservation.
What has been your most rewarding or memorable experience in your field?
I am proud of having followed my heart and passion despite all difficulties. I treasure that after many letters and emails of persuasion I was accepted as a volunteer in 2005 at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Lab to learn about wildlife forensic genetics. We got along so well that I went back year after year, culminating in becoming a visiting scientist and developing my Ph.D. in collaboration with them, where I found true masters (Mary Curtis, Ken Goddard, Ed Espinosa, and through Ed, John Thornton) and friends.
The whole thing has been challenging. Every day is. My Ph.D. research was among the first ones of its kind in Brazil (now, thankfully, followed by several projects on the same line) and I constantly battled negativity. It is also challenging to go against a habit that most Brazilians like and believe is harmless (owning wild birds).
What's a normal work day like for you?
My work day varies a lot. I can spend the day in the lab doing research at the University of São Paulo, I can be on fieldwork mostly anywhere in Brazil, on raids with the police and SOS Fauna, having meetings with prosecutors, politicians, with other researchers and governmental representatives from environmental agencies, organizing training, courses, lectures, and workshops, or simply at the home office, working on the computer, writing publications, assessments, grant proposals, and doing meetings via Skype. My home office has been my main choice lately, now that I have a small baby.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would say to my younger self to believe strongly and never doubt or give up, specially the bigger and most ambitious projects (some of which ended up on my shelves waiting for their turn). I would also tell myself to learn some finance, marketing, and administration. And maybe I would give myself some stock market information so I would be rich by now and able to do meaningful work without having to worry with grants and bills, ha.
If you could have people do one thing to help save wild species, what would it be?
Do not regard wild animals as pets. Wild species are supposed to evolve over time as dynamic entities in ever changing environments. Not to be someone's amusement.
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In Their Words
The mega business of illegal wildlife trafficking threatens Brazil’s mega biodiversity more every day. We must turn the tide now—before it’s too late.
Juliana Machado Ferreira
More About Ferreira's Projects
Once these animals are seized from smugglers, then what?