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Technological knowledge in practice

Biologist Juliana Machado Ferreira establishes NGO to fight animal trafficking

PERSONAL ARCHIVEAt 34, the biologist Juliana Machado Ferreira could have been satisfied with a promising career as a researcher at the Institute of Biosciences at the University of São Paulo (USP), where she completed her doctorate in 2012. However, since her master’s degree in 2006, her choices have indicated that the laboratory was not her natural habitat. Not for lack of an affinity for basic research, but, as she herself states, due to the need to put into practice the technical knowledge gained at university in the fight against illegal trafficking of wildlife.

So, during her years at the Evolutionary Biology and Vertebrate Conservation Laboratory, coordinated by Professor João Morgante, Juliana spent her time on both population genetics research and activism as part of SOS Fauna, a non-governmental organization (NGO) working in partnership with government institutions, the civil police and the federal police in the fight against illegal trade in animals. “I became involved in animal seizure operations conducted by the Civil Police in São Paulo and began to understand the political implications that scientific research can have on society through the non-profit organizations,” says Juliana, who founded the NGO Freeland Brasil two years ago in order to engage in activities involving research, education and investigation to fight animal trafficking.

Her interest in the subject arose in 2005, while studying for her master’s, when she had the opportunity to visit the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in the United States, the only laboratory in the world used solely to study the effects of crimes against fauna and flora. During her PhD, the biologist developed molecular markers to infer the origin of some species of birds seized in Sao Paulo. The difficulty of knowing where the animals came from is a problem often faced when returning them to the wild. This is because individuals of the same species may exhibit genetic differences caused by the adaptation process in different biomes. “Animals freed into a very different population may have trouble adapting in a location unknown to them. The genetic approach, in theory and depending on the data present, allows us to identify these different populations within a species and prevent situations like this,” she explains.

Her skill in public speaking drew the attention of TED, an international non-profit organization that organizes talks on various current issues and publishes them on the Internet. In 2010 she gave a talk in Long Beach, California, for an audience of leaders in various fields. “Through TED, I learned that my work could have a greater reach,” says Juliana. “Today my work has a broader impact and is oriented towards helping define public policies to combat wildlife trafficking, but I still maintain contact with the laboratory.”